11 May 2018
Kilauea eruptions being compared to 1955 event
It’s been one week since the start of new eruptions at Kilauea’s east rift zone that destroyed dozens of homes and prompted the evacuations of thousands, but scientists say there’s no telling when the volcanic activity will end. The latest outbreak of volcanic eruptions is already being compared to the 1955 outbreak, which continued for several months.
When you live on an island that was created by volcanic activity, it’s hard not to become complacent about living on the slopes of an active volcano….until the mountain wakes up again, as Kilauea did seven days ago. Human beings persist in their habit of building their habitats on earthquake fault lines, eroding ocean fronts, in the tornado alleys of the Midwest, or in the path of the hurricanes that barrel up the east coast, on the banks of rivers that predictably overflow their banks every few years…and on the sides of active volcanoes like Vesuvius in Italy and Kilauea in Hawaii….despite the predictable outcome that sooner or later something bad is going to happen.
Tina Neal, USGS scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, put the current outbreak in the context of previous incidents. “The 1955 and 1960 eruptions in that similar area lasted between 36 and 88 days, so that gives you a sense of the bounds of what is plausible. We could see more dramatic lava fountaining.”
Neal added that despite the pause in activity in Puna on Thursday, magma appears to still be moving downrift beneath Leilani Estates and farther into the lower east rift zone and that additional outbreaks of lava are expected.
There are now 15 active lava fissures in Puna, on the Big Island, where the outbreaks are centered. Geologists closely monitoring the situation say more breakouts of lava are likely based off of seismic activity. There were at least 30 tremors between 6 p.m. Thursday and 5 a.m. Friday. The strongest was measured at a magnitude of 3.2.
As dramatic as events like Kilauea and Mount Saint Helens are, they pale in comparison to the potential devastation that would accompany an eruption of the Yellowstone Candela, a 1,500 square mile volcanic zone underneath the Yellowstone National Park. The site of the largest “super-volcano” on the planet has been more or less dormant for the last 30,000 years or so. If it were to blow up again, it could become an “extinction level event,” meaning that the existence of all life on earth would be in extreme jeopardy.
Put into that perspective, it becomes easier to understand why people build cantilevered houses right over the fault lines in Los Angeles, or on the slopes of Kilauea: we’re all living under the threat of potential volcanic eruptions that could end life on earth. People want to live where they want to live, and the most dangerous places in the world to live are often the most beautiful and the most prestigious.
Given the hyper-hysterical reactions of the mainstream media to any kind of threat assessments, it’s important not to give in to the hype. Some media outlets are reporting a steady increase in the number of major earthquakes. In fact, according to the United States Geological Survey Service (USGS), recent earthquake activity – which is often a precursor or a consequence of volcanic activity – peaked in 2010 with 24 earthquakes at or above magnitude 7.0. On the other hand, it only takes one earthquake – in the wrong place – to trigger the Yellowstone Candela.
Keep your fingers crossed.