Demystifying Mount Kilauea
Photo: Mount Kilauea erupting March 6 in Hawaii (USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory)
Mount Kilauea attracted a slurry of national media attention on March 7, a few days after the Big Island volcano began erupting from a new location, and hot lava spewed up to 80 feet into the air. Major media outlets from California to New York picked up the story and splashed it around the globe.
I’m currently living on the Big Island about 20 miles from the volcano, so it wasn’t long before I received concerned phone calls from friends, along with an e-mail from my mother on the East Coast. “Let me hear from you,” she wrote — her way of asking if I’m still alive. Like most non-Hawaiian residents, my mom doesn’t realize Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983.
Volcanic activity is nothing new on the Big Island, but the recent activity is significant and is being closely watched by the U.S. Geological Survey and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where Kilauea is located. USGS scientists said the eruption is the first of its kind in 14 years.
“Unpredictability is the key [to Kilauea],” said Mardie Lane, a park ranger at HVNP, during a phone call on Monday. “We’re dealing with Mother Nature at its best and it can change quickly.” She stressed the importance for visitors to follow park guidelines and not enter closed areas of the park.
The new activity has created a bright spot for some Big Island tour operators who are enjoying a spike in business. Greg Nottingham, owner of LavaWalk.com, a lava-hiking tour company based in Kalapana, said his phone has been ringing off the hook for the past few days. “We’ve been so busy,” he said. “People see the news and say, ‘Honey, let’s go check out the lava.’” How close Nottingham is able to get visitors to the action depends on the ever-changing activity. On Monday night, hikers had to walk a few miles out and back over an uneven lava field to get close.
Business has also picked up for helicopter tours, which is probably the best way to see the current activity due to its remote location. Two Big Island companies reported doubled call volume despite temporary flight restrictions issued by the Federal Aviation Administration to keep helicopters a safe distance away from the lava and volcanic ash. For more information on lava-viewing activities, click here.
Historically, an increase in Kilauea’s activity means a corresponding increase in Big Island tourism. HVNP recorded the most park visitors in its history, 2.2 million, in 1983, the same year the current eruption began. The trend appears to be continuing as HVNP reported increased visitation over the past few days. This latest activity along Kilauea’s east rift zone happens to be in the same spot where it all began 28 years ago.
Admission to the park is $10 per vehicle and $5 per person (passes are good for 7 days). Go to HVNP’s website for more information on HVNP, visit . Click here for the latest Kilauea updates and live web cams of the crater.