Earth's Journal

Geosphere Journal Entry

Kilauea Lava Keeps Flowing to Sea (February 6, 2012)


View of recent lava flow to the ocean from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano. Hawaii Volcano Observatory.

Red-hot lava keeps pouring from Pu'u O'o crater of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano. Some of it flows through underground lava tubes and spills into the ocean more than six miles (eleven kilometers) away. The lava hardens into solid rock along the coast, adding to the growing delta along Kilauea's southern shore. Lava has flowed to the sea at Kilauea for nearly thirty years.

Kilauea is the youngest and most southeastern of the five volcanoes on the island of Hawaii, also called the Big Island. It's one the most active volcanoes on the planet, with nearly continuous eruptions since 1983. For at least 300,000 years eruptions have deposited layer after layer of lava, giving the volcano its shield-like shape. Most of its eruptions have been harmless but it sometimes explodes more violently. In 1790, scores of people were killed near the summit after a sudden explosion.

Kilauea is a type of volcano called a hot spot volcano. Magma rises from the mantle and burns its way through the crust like a blowtorch. Hot spot volcanoes can erupt far from the edges of Earth's tectonic plates, where most other volcanoes are found. Much of its lava starts out as a type called pahoehoe, lava with a smooth, ropy texture. Pahoehoe can change into 'a'a lava as it cools. 'A'a has a rougher, more rubbly texture made up of blocks of broken lava.