Lava lake explodes in Hawaii Smoke and lava explode from Kilauea volcano on Hawaiis Big Island (AP photos)
Lava lake explodes in Hawaii
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Molten lava, rocks and gas went flying through the air on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano after an explosion was caused by the partial collapse of a crater wall.

The collapse triggered the small explosion, which spread lava and debris around the rim of Kilauea's Halemaumau Crater. This is according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Janet Babb, a geologist with the USGS, compared the blast that happened on May 3 to taking a hammer to the top of a bottle of champagne.

"You look at the bottle and you see the liquid. But you don't see the gas," she said. "There's a lot of gas in the lava. And so, when that rock fall hits the lava lake, it's like the moment you knock the top of the champagne bottle off and that gas is released and it hurls molten lava and rock fragments."

Rocks overhanging the lava lake are altered by gases coming from the lava, Babb said. The rocks eventually give way. They collapse into the lava, causing an explosion.

The material was hurled about 280 feet skyward, she said. No one was injured.

Video of the event shows a wall of rocks sliding into a lava lake that had risen to a record-high level. The slide caused an explosion that sent fist-sized chunks of rock onto the closed Halemaumau visitor overlook. The area has been closed since 2008. That is when the lava lake formed.

There could be fallout of ash and dust from this type of event, but it's very unlikely that anyone could be injured, Babb said. Wind direction dictates the amount of debris that lands in visitor areas. It is relatively common, she said.

The last time molten lava was visible in the crater was in 1982, when a fissure erupted. The last time there was a lake similar to this one was in 1974.

The vent within Halemaumau Crater has been rising and falling since it first opened, but it reached a record high last week. Even at its previous highest level in October 2012, the lake was too low for people to see. During the day, people could view the gas rising from the lake and at night people could see the orange glow from the lava.

From the early 1800s up until 1924, there was a continuous lake of lava at Kilauea summit within Halemaumau. At that time, the crater was about half the diameter of what it is now.

In 1924, there was a huge eruption inside the volcano that doubled the size of the crater.

Since 1924, lava lakes have been present at different times. In 1967 and 1968, the entire crater was filled with molten lava. You can still see a "bathtub ring" on the walls of the crater where the lava had risen to at that time.

Following the May 3 blast, a magnitude 3.6 earthquake was felt in the area early the next day according to the Geological Survey.

Critical thinking challenge: What does a bottle of champagne have in common with this volcano?

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COMMENTS (2)
  • JaylaC-Bru
    5/09/2015 - 12:27 a.m.

    The question is what does a champagne bottle have in common with this volcano, well according to
    " Lava Lake Explodes in Hawaii" it says that Janet Babb, A Geologist with the USGs, When the volcano exploded in may it was like a champagne top being popped off the top and you can watch how when you open it builds up foam and boom, it blasts everywhere. When the liquid came out it wasn't gas so its not exactly like the volcano. but the volcano and the champagne bottle do have some comparisons.

  • Steve0620-yyca
    4/18/2016 - 07:54 p.m.

    The lava inside the volcano has accumulated. Its explosion was caused by a partial collapse of the crater. There have been many activities that happened in the volcano. The volcano exploded many times and the lava inside rose. When the volcano exploded, the debris and molten lava flew and landed on an area that was closed since two thousand eight so no one was hurt.
    A bottle of champagne is related to the volcano because if you open it after it gets shaken too much, the liquid inside rises and "explodes" like a volcano. It can be like the gas and lava that rises inside of a volcano.

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