Precisely one month ago, a 500-foot long crack in the ground opened up in Hawaii’s Leilani Estates neighborhood, spewing lava into the air. At the time, volcanologists weren’t sure what might happen next, and whether lava flows would continue through the community.
Since then, the state reports that lava has now blanketed over 2,300 acres of land, over 2,000 people have been evacuated, and a “vigorous eruption” of lava continues in the southeastern corner of Hawaii.
On June 2, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said lava crossed over highways and filled a small lake, which “apparently evaporated all the water.” By this morning, the USGS reported the lava flow was half a mile wide, and headed toward the ocean.
Weeks ago, volcano scientists suspected these most recent eruptions for Hawaii’s young and growing volcano, Kilauea, could keep happening for months, and it appears Kilauea is headed down that road.
These projections are based on historical precedent. Kilauea is one of the most closely-studied volcanoes on Earth, and similar past eruptions — which also involved the fountaining of lava into the air, massive cracks in the ground, and lava gradually covering thousands of acres of land — lasted for months.
“Weeks to months is a pretty good estimate,” volcanologist Erik Klemetti previously told Mashable. “But it wouldn’t shock me if it lasted longer than that.”
Perhaps the strongest sign that Kilauea is nowhere near finished is the reality that it’s tapping into fresh, new magma (or underground lava). This lava, measured at over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, is different than the lava that erupted at the outset of the activity, a month ago. It’s now molten rock from near Earth’s mantle, a zone (1,800 miles thick) beneath Earth’s crust that’s so hot the rock there perpetually exists in a semi-fluid state.
“It’s coming from the source within the deep part of the Earth,” USGS volcanologist Wendy Stovall told reporters on a call last week.
In short, it appears Kilauea has a rich supply of lava that will likely keep it continually erupting for another month or so, if not longer. This behavior, however unsettling for those evacuated and captivating for those watching from afar, is completely normal behavior for Kilauea. The volcano is actively building itself, and will blanket nearly every inch of the southeastern corner of Hawaii in lava for the next hundreds of thousands of years.