9-21-11 New Puu Oo Lava Flow

Update 9-22-11

I’m writing this to help clear up some things appearing on blogs. People tend to get their info wrong or they have opinions based what I don’t know. The new flows, yes now it has branched into 2 flows for now, have only moved less than 2 miles from Puu Oo. This isn’t very far at all when you factor in just how large of an area it is above the pali. I wouldn’t get too excited about a flow on the flats leading to the ocean just yet. There are factors working against that. Lets look back at the early Aug big flow event first. This started with a similar sudden surge of magma but, was quickly followed by a large deflation and collapse of Puu Oo’s floor. Seems it just wasn’t stable enough yet after re-filling from March’s episode and maybe lots of trapped gases. More of a small hiccup. Weds mornings surge held steady and lava flowed in a more continuous stream vs a sudden surge and Puu Oo’s floor held steady. But, the magma has since been on a slow steady deflation (ck the tilt graph below) and if it continues all the way back below where this all started, this flow could slowly die out long before it really goes anywhere. To get a better idea of what this flow has to overcome on its travels, one has to know the terrain.

There are many obstacles along the way. Many very near Puu Oo’s base which spans quite a distance. The east spillway of Puu Oo is still steep and broad so, it allowed the flow to initially move a good distance. Once it made its way to the upper flats that are full of old shields and a very large old A’a flow, its progress quickly slowed. It also cools and spreads at the front. Although this flow is of decent size its nothing like flowing lava channels of past episodes.  It will rely on another surge or the deflation to stop at a higher level than when all of this started. It works sort of like plumbing with pressure as it’s fuel to some degree. Will have to wait and see if an actual vent forms on Puu Oo’s east spillway.

No, I’m not a volcanologist. I do have 20 years of field experience and these are my personal observations based on previous experience with eruption episodes. Not just ocean entries. Everything from the source to the ocean. I do know the area this flow is traveling through. Its rugged and remote. I’ve hiked it a few times. Much of it is horrible shelly Pahoehoe and huge A’a lava flows. Don’t even think of trying to hike to it. You wouldn’t get close anyways, even if you could stand to hike that far. Besides, if a sudden new surge broke out above you, your history. Back to the flows future. While its definitely interesting and well worth a visitor taking a heli tour, this could very well be yet another short-lived event. As I stated way back in March during the Kamoamoa eruption, this could be the pattern the eruption is falling into for many years. There have been periods of over 10 years in the past without ocean entries and short-lived episodes like this.

There was a string of small quakes just southeast of Halemaumau as the magma flow made its way to Puu Oo. I’m surprised it didn’t lead to an eruption in that area. Maybe its leading up to something like that. If this episode does die out slowly, solidifying lava could cause blockages around Puu Oo. This could cause the next magma surge to be forced out somewhere else along its way towards Puu Oo. It’s all really interesting because no one knows for sure until you see the lava appear in a new area. The instruments tell lots but, in the end it can erupt most anywhere along the rifts.

Again, I’m not a volcanologist but, I have hiked that entire upper pali area many times over and I do know what any new flow is in for when trying to advance up there. Compare this to the July 2007 episode and its very small in comparison. In 07 an actual 2 mile long fissure opened up and pooled to the west of Kupaianaha and then channeled to the north before eventually forming shields and we all know what it did for the next 3.5 years. I was up on Puu Oo within hours of that eruption and was lucky enough to see in person the 2 mile long wall of spattering lava ending in a tremendously huge boiling lava lake. An amazing unforgettable sight. Unfortunately that was a fleeting view of less than a minute. The area was locked in a dense fog with fierce lightning over near Mauna Loa. Imagine hiking over 15 miles for less than a 1 minute view. So, instead of waiting for a chance of maybe capturing some photos, I chose to hike back to my Jeep and head up to Kupaianaha via Kalapana for a close up view. If you look at a map you will see this was no small feat. 38 miles in 2 days/night plus the 150+ miles of one way driving. A friend tagged along on the Kupaianaha venture. The fissures had stopped spattering leaving 3 growing perched lava lakes. This was the beginnings of the TEB episode. Check out the images here from that adventure and a few in the following months. Glow from that episode can be seen in this image.

I mention this so, one can understand I do have real world experiences of nearly every episode spanning from 1991 to the present. Does it mean I’m 100% correct, of course not. I do base my adventures on my experience and its served me very well when getting images of great lava flow events. It’s also stopped me from ever trying to view many eruptions too. Its more important knowing when not to go. A new video from Blue Hawaiian heli tours can be seen here on KHNL’s website. Watch it and you will get an idea of the vast terrain between Puu Oo and the pali and that the flow has a long ways to go. What appears to be smooth surrounding old lava is anything but. It’s the shelly stuff that will cut you up in a bad way. It also doesn’t allow for a quick retreat if needed.  Personally I would like to see this stall and die out. I’d rather have lava return to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in some way. Just a side note. When viewing the USGS web-cams, they are set to be overexposed so, faint glow of lava can be seen. This makes a normal flow look way more intense than it really is.

Happy viewing for those doing heli tours.

A reminder to check out my prints at some island galleries. The great shots of the first perched lava lake inside of Puu Oo vent are a must see. Trudy’s Island Arts in the Kona International Market, Krazy About Kona in the Kona Inn Shopping Village ( ck out the new print of Fire and Ice on glass. More on that later), Kona Mountain Coffee on Queen K hwy and Oahu (Waikiki) and the Volcano Art Center in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Also look for my images on official park gifts at the visitors centers. My Fire and Ice poster and the terrific new stainless steel water bottles. Magnets, postcards etc… Tell them you want to see more of my work on the gifts.

Updated Graph 9-25-11 Continued Deflation

Blue line is Puu Oo and green the summit. Note the blue line slowly dropping.

Available at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park visitors centers


Puu Oo had a sudden large surge of magma hit after midnight sending a very large channelized flow to the east. Nearly a 50 microdon inflation of magma. Still waiting on an official update to see how far it has traveled. Easily over 2 miles. Depending on whether the flow was able to get through the area of large shields it may stay to the west of what’s left of Royal Gardens. This would take it in the direction of Jack Thompson’s place. Or it could just as easily die out before it ever gets much further. Follow me on facebook and or google+ for quicker updates. I’m usually the first to report. This should be common sense but, stay away from this area! There could be a lot more events before this settles down. Besides, it’s a very long hike to this area and never hike up from below to a flow like this. The terrain in this area is un-hike-able due to all the shield building activity from earlier eruptions.


Bryan Lowry

All text and images are copyright protected ©Bryan Lowry/lavapix.com. Use without my permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.
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