Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Kilauea Lava Lake Overflows

The lava lake at Kilauea's Hale'ma'uma'u crater/caldera has overflowed, for the first time since it's 2008 debut. This follows a rockfall event on the lake rim, which resulted in some minor explosive activity.

Seismicity at Kilauea has been high of late, which may indicate a fresh injection of magma into the chamber. Kilauea's neighbor, Mauna Loa, is also undergoing a period of inflation and higher than normal seimicity.

It is likely that the mantle plume which feeds the Hawaiian volcanic chain is undergoing a period of higher pressure or activity. The plume is responsible for all of the islands that exist in the chain, as are most 'hotspot' type volcanic systems.

The activity so far has not been threatening or dangerous to any population. The lava lake is situated within a much larger caldera, which sits inside an even larger caldera. There is no possibility from the lava in the lake to escape the caldera rim at the current time.

The activity has drawn far more visitors than normal for the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Inevitably, someone has attempted to fly a drone over the lava lake. This resulted in a scuffle with park rangers, and the eventual use of a taser.

It should be mentioned, that in any US National Park, flying personal drones is illegal. This is due to damage that can be caused to park features, as occurred recently in Yellowstone, where a hobbyist flew, and crashed his drone into the Grand Prismatic Pool, one of Yellowstone's star features. This drone cannot be retrieved due to the temperatures of the pool. The chemical properties of the drone can alter the chemistry of the lake, damage the bacterial mats that give color to the pool, thus altering the appearance.

National Parks worldwide are under similar threats, even if sometimes they are a bit silly. Sometimes, they're downright despicable.

It is important when visiting any US National Park to know the rules, maintain safety, and avoid damaging any feature of a park. The PopSci article above doesn't actually seem to touch on the fact that there has been a rash of defacing national parks, and careless drone usage.

I came across that article on Facebook, which was accompanied by the quote "What was the drone going to do? Hurt the lava?"

Well, no. However... there exists plenty of video that shows what happens when foreign objects (not rocks or lava) are tossed into lava lakes, like Kilauea's. I have no clue how large this drone was, but I know a fair amount about electronics, as I am a computer engineer by trade. Silicon, heavy/rare earth metals, polycarbonates (plastics), carbon and more are present in any electronic system. The linked video shows a bag of mere garbage being tossed into a lava lake. The result is an explosive reaction, occasionally violent.

Now, imagine there were people around the area where the drone was being flown. Currently, the HVO has closed off the observation area of the lake, the reasoning for which was demonstrated by the rockfall into the lake and subsequent minor explosion. Lava is a mix of dissolved gases, molten rock, and more. Adding chemicals, such as those included in drones, to lava lakes upsets that chemistry, in many cases explosively. This could cause injury or death if done carelessly... which is what I expect was the reasoning behind tasering the hobbyist.

Regardless of the opinion of myself or others, our National Parks are under constant threat of careless tourists. If you choose to visit a US volcanic national park, please take care not to provoke the law, and respect the environment which has been preserved for you, and others to enjoy. It is unacceptable to take ignorant actions, or resort to flat out vandalism when you visit these places. Tasering a hobbyist may seem extreme, but keep in mind, one careless hobbyist can wreck a national treasure or UNESCO World Heritage Site with little to no effort, ruining the experience for millions, if not billions, of people.


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