Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupts on the Big Island

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupts as volcanic glass fragments and ash fall on Big Island

Kilauea volcano, the home of Pele, Hawaii's volcano goddess, is erupting. The U.S. Geological Survey announced that the volcano started its eruption on Wednesday, just hours after an eruption watch was issued.

The USGS said the eruption was noticed just before 4:45 a.m. local time on Wednesday when the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory "detected glow in Kīlauea summit webcam images." Those images showed that the eruption started within the volcano's Halema'uma'u crater.

"Webcam imagery shows fissures at the base of Halema'uma'u crater generating lava flows on the surface of the crater floor," the agency said. "The activity is confined to Halema'uma'u and the hazards will be reassessed as the eruption progresses."

Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency says there is currently "No indication that populated areas are threatened."

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupts on the Big Island
Kilauea Volcano erupting at 11:48 a.m. EST.

Caught on livestream

See the beginning of Kilauea's eruption, caught on livestream
Live video footage of the eruption shows lava flowing through the crater and with large bursts bubbling up. A live stream of the volcano from the USGS caught the dramatic beginning of the eruption, which started before dawn. The video shows bright lava break through the surface of the crater, fountaining into the air accompanied by clouds of ash.

What happens during a Kilauea volcano eruption?

Kilauea has several erupted several times in recent years. The last eruption began the afternoon of Jan. 5 and didn't pause until March 7. Prior to that, the volcano had intermittent eruptions from September 2021 through March 2022, according to the USGS. The worst eruption stemming from this volcano was the Pu'u'ō'ō' Eruption, which lasted 35 years – from 1983 to 2018. It ended when the crater floor and lava lake of Pu'u'ō'ō', a cone on the eastern zone of the volcano, "catastrophically collapsed."

For now, the most recent eruption is "within a closed area" of Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park, the USGS said, and "there are no indications of activity migrating" out of the summit. In the agency's latest update, it was reported that there are multiple active lava fountains shooting up between 13 and 30 feet high and at least one fissure. There are between 3 and 6 feet of elevated lava around the perimeter of the crater floor.

While the lava is contained, the USGS said that volcanic gas emissions in the area are elevated, with about 65,000 tons of sulfur dioxide being emitted per day.

Residents have been urged to reduce their exposure and stay indoors or wear face masks, as the biggest concern is the high levels of volcanic gas.

"This hazard can have far-reaching effects down-wind," the service said, as large amounts of water vapor, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide are "continuously released" during an eruption. Sulfur dioxide specifically will contribute to volcanic smog, known as vog, which creates a visible haze. This has already been observed downwind of the volcano.

Thin glass fibers formed by gas during an eruption, known as Pele's hair, also pose a risk and have been seen dusting the city of Pāhala, about 20 miles downwind of the summit. These threads form when gas bubbles burst near the surface of lava and stretch the skin of that lava into long threads that can be as much as a "couple feet long," according to the National Park Service.

"Because these strands are so light, they can become airborne and be carried by the wind," the service says. " ... While fragile and brittle, they are also sharp. As tiny pieces of glass, they can become lodged in human skin and much worse, eyes. Caution around the fibers is necessary to avoid injury from the slivers."

The fibers are named after Pele, Hawaii's goddess of volcanoes, who the NPS describes as being "embodied by the lava and natural forces associated with volcanic eruptions." Native Hawaiians believe that she made her permanent home in Kilauea's Halema'uma'u crater.

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