Everyone has been looking at Kilauea volcano’s lava flows. Sure, a wall of molten rock consuming a car is quite the sight. But as we all focus on the damage at Leilani Estates, we shouldn’t forget that volcanoes are complex systems, where everything is connected. New warnings about flying ballistic blocks and sinking lava lakes help us remember!
This event — beautiful, destructive, frightening — also presents a moment for all of us to appreciate the immense power of the forces that never cease shaping our planet. We are reminded by Kilauea to stay humble in the face of nature. And for volcanologists, the eruption is an opportunity to share with the public what we know about how these massive, intricate systems work.
Indeed, as lava is spitting and oozing along Kilauea’s East Rift Zone, there is action miles away at the top of the volcano. The pressure dropped below the lava lake at Kilauea’s summit crater, Halema’umau’, and lake levels have reached the lowest level since it formed back in 2008.
Scientists at the US Geological Survey’s Hawaii Volcano Observatory worry that if the lava lake drops too far, groundwater will seep into the conduit — the plumbing in this vast, interconnected system — between the summit and the East Rift Zone.