Kilauea Volcano
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Kilauea Volcano

Kilauea is the most active volcano in the Hawaiian Islands. Located along the southern shore of the Big Island, also known as 'Hawaii', the volcano is presently somewhere between 300,000 to 600,000 years old. 

Like all Hawaiian volcanoes, Kilauea was created as the Pacific tectonic plate moved over the notorious Hawaiian hotspot in the Earth's underlying mantle.

Kilauea is joined by five other volcanoes that make up the island of Hawaii. Kohala is the oldest volcano on the island.  It is more than a million years old.  Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain of the five.  Now dormant, it last erupted about 4,500 years ago.  Hualalai is the middle volcano. Located on the western side of the island, it last erupted in the 1700s. 

Mauna Loa is the second youngest and second-most active volcano on the Big Island. It is also the largest volcano on the face of the earth.  Mauna Loa remains an extremely dangerous volcano which last erupted in 1984.

There is also a baby volcano.  Loihi is an emerging volcano that is still under water off the southern coast of Hawaii. It will appear above water 10,000-50,000 years from now.

Because it lacks topographic prominence and its activities historically coincided with those of Mauna Loa, Kilauea was once thought to be a satellite of its much larger neighbor which looms in the distance about 20 miles away.

Recent science, however, has made it clear that Kilauea is not only a separate volcano, it is also the current eruptive center of the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain.

However, Kilauea is only a lad compared to Mauna Loa, its massive big brother which looms in the distance.  At 4,000 feet tall, Kilauea isn't even tall enough to be considered a mountain yet.  But don't feel sorry for Kilauea.  Someday it will become the most dangerous volcano on earth and likely exceed the height of Mauna Loa.  Let's just hope that day doesn't come anytime soon.

Kilauea has a large summit caldera with a two mile diameter.

The walls rise 400 feet high.

It is unknown if the caldera was always there or if it is a relatively recent feature.  It is possible that it has come and gone throughout Kilauea's eruptive history.

The construction is estimated to have begun about 500 years ago.  Its present form was finalized by a particularly powerful eruption in 1790.

A major feature within the caldera is Halemaumau Crater, a large pit crater and one of Kilauea's most historically active eruption centers.  This crater is where the smoke is emanating from in the picture.

The crater is approximately 3,000 feet in diameter and 279 ft deep.

The floor of the Halemaumau Crater is now mostly covered by flows from its most recent eruption in 1974.

The most recent major eruption at Kilauea has also proved by far the longest-lived.  The current Kilauea eruption began on January 3, 1983, along the eastern rift zone.  The vent produced vigorous lava fountains that quickly built up into PuuOo cone, sending lava flows down the volcano's slope.

In 1986, activity shifted down the rift to a new vent, named Kupaianaha, where it took on a more effusive character. Kupaianaha built up a low, broad volcanic shield, and lava tubes fed flows extending 11 to 12 km (7 to 7 mi) to the sea.

In 1992, the eruption moved back to PuuOo, but continued in the same manner, covering nearly all of the 1983–86 lava flows and large areas of coastline.

As of January 2011, the eruption has produced 1 cubic mile of lava, covered 48 square miles of land, added 509 acres of land, destroyed 213 structures, and resurfaced 9 miles of highway with lava as thick as 115 feet.

Rick's Note:  When people think of a volcano, a place like Mt Etna or Mt Vesuvius will surely come to mind.  We all visualize volcanic eruptions as a violent explosions that eject red hot lava high into the air,

Kilauea is much more tame than that.  Its lava flows like a river.  The   eruptions at Kilauea are a slow oozing of red-hot lava mixed with dried black lava rock that carves out a path to the sea.  Fortunately, it is pretty easy to avoid the danger and still get close enough to get a good look.

According to the National Park Service, “Activity on Kilauea continues as magma vigorously pushes to the surface, forming a river of lava.” This sight can be seen firsthand during numerous tours available each day at the park.

The Crater Rim Drive is a one- to three-hour tour taken by car with intermittent short walks throughout. Stretching 11 miles, you'll travel a well-marked route with scenic stops along the way. If you have more time, you may want to take the four- to five-hour tour and explore the coastal areas. This 20-mile route descends 3,700 feet.

For those who prefer to walk, an abundance of trails lend themselves to day hikes and wilderness hikes where visitors can often view active lava flows.

Visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park have a unique opportunity to see the living earth in action.   The true character of the park is best discovered on foot. With over 150 miles of trails in the park, exploration by walking and hiking can be a fascinating and enjoyable experience.

Park trails range in difficulty from easy walks (Bird Park/Kipukapuaulu or Thurston Lava Tube/Nahuku) to longer hikes such as Kilauea Iki or Mauna Iki. Other trails provide access through wilderness areas and are suitable only for those who are in top physical condition and properly outfitted with winter gear. Most trails are well maintained and easy to follow. Wilderness trails are roughly marked by ahu (cairns - piles of rock). Devastation and Waldron Ledge trails are paved and accessible to wheelchairs and strollers.

Cruise ships sailing between the Hawaiian Islands make a point to conduct night tours, so passengers can get front-row seats for the spectacular show. The brilliant colors of orange, red and yellow churn as billowing smoke rises each time lava pours into the ocean below.  Much more visible at night, Kilauea is quite a spectacle and always a highlight of any cruise.

Whether you choose to tour Hawaii's most active volcano by land, sea or both, you're sure to find it a thrilling experience you won't soon forget. Considering most people won't have the opportunity to visit a live volcano, you can consider yourself an honored guest of the Islands who has witnessed a positively astonishing act of nature.

Lava Light Galleries

Photographers CJ Kale and Nick Selway waited more than five years to capture a never-before seen-view of an active volcano. When the conditions were finally right, the two friends risked their lives to get it.

What were they seeking? An image of lava hitting the water shown through a breaking wave.

To do this they spent seven days camped out near the edge of volcanoes on the island of Hawaii. Then, wearing only surf shorts and fins, plunged into near-scalding water.

The maneuver is extremely dangerous, but CJ and Nick, who together own Lava Light Galleries in Kailua Kona, Hawaii, did not want to pass up this rare opportunity.
"To do this again, we would need the lava to cross another beach," CJ tells us. "Unfortunately, the next closest beach is over seven miles from the lava's normal path. Even worse is, if it did take a path toward the beach, there are about 30 homes in its way, so I pray that we never get the chance again."

Two photographers risked their lives to become the first people to capture the explosive moment fiery lava crashes into the sea.

Nick Selway, 28, and CJ Kale, 35, braved baking hot 110F waters to capture these images, as they floated just feet from scalding heat and floating lava bombs.

The pair, who chase the lava as it flows from Kilauea through Kalapana, Hawaii, spend their days camped on the edge of active volcanoes to capture the incredible images.

Contrast: The bright light of the lava, accentuated by a long exposure, sets of the grey of the water in the Hawaiian dusk

Terrifying: Mr Selway and Mr Kale dress only in swimming shorts and flippers as they float in rough seas as hot as 110F to capture the incredible images

Steaming close: Here one of the daredevils is  braving the surf warmed by the lava to snap the amazing images

The cameraman is just a few dozen feet from fiery lava pouring out of the rock.

The two men use protective casings for their cameras, known as surf housings, to keep them operating in the extreme conditions.

Using a simple protective casing around their cameras, and wearing just swimming shorts and flippers, they bob up and down with the water
as the surf washes over their heads.

But their remarkable day jobs don't come without enormous danger.

Last year Mr Kale tumbled 20ft into a lava-tube with 40lb of camera gear on his back, shattering his ankle.

Others have died in the area due to land falling away.


Beautiful, but dangerous: Mr Selway and Mr Kale don't recommend that others attempt to recreate these incredible shots
Beauty: Hawaii is an collection of volcanic islands located over a geological 'hot spot' in the Central Pacific


Artistic: Like a Salvador Dali painting, thick gloopy lava folds over a rock, left, as the molten rock cascades into the sea, right - causing
steam to rise from the water

Magma: Mr Kale and Mr Selway spend days camped out on the edge of volcanoes to capture their shots at just the right moment


Brave: A photographer stands with his camera just a few hundreds yards from an explosion as a river of lava boils down the mountainside




Inches from death: People die every year in Hawaii trying to get a close-up view of the island chain's spectacular volcanoes



The rising steam from the eruptions creates a rainbow across the evening sky.

Mr Kale and Mr Selway, who is from Washington, are the only two people to bring such a magnificent and unique view of the volcano to the world.

Mr Kale added: 'It's such an extraordinary experience and we feel lucky to be able to turn our photography into what we do for a living.

'The views are really something special and completely unique every time.  'I wouldn't rather be doing anything else.'


Mr Kale, from Hawaii, said: 'We shoot pictures all over the world but our volcano images are shot here on the island because it's so spectacular.

'Our days are spent on the edge of volcanoes, either leaving at midnight to get out before the light of the rising sun or hiking in the day and then staying overnight.

'We use surf-housing which is a protective case so we can venture into the water with our cameras, as the heat and water would be too much for them.

'It's 110F where we were and just 20ft in front of us it was boiling.

'We have a lot of fun but it's extremely dangerous and I wouldn't recommend anyone trying it for themselves.

'I fell into a lava-tube shattering my ankle. After climbing out we had to lash my foot to my leg with a tripod, camera strap and belt and hike over the rugged terrain for two miles.

'Not many people die each year but when they do it's normally in large groups when large chunks of land drop into the sea.'


Life on Mars?

Here a river of molten rock flows past a majestic landscape that conjures up images of perhaps some faraway planet.

Too close: A flip-flop catches fire as it is exposed to the lava - a warning to the photographers of the risks of doing this kind of work
Fountain of flames: A volley of lava explodes into the air with clouds of menacing smoke rising above
Molten river: Thousands of gallons of red lava cascade down a mountain slope in a scene of terrifying beauty
Bleak: Smoke rises off rivers of fiery lava as it crashes into the sea.

Hawaii is an collection of volcanic islands located over a geological 'hot spot' in the Central Pacific.

There are eight major islands and six of these are open to tourism.

Hawaii - or the 'Big Island' - is the largest of the islands and home to Mauna Kea and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which includes two of the largest and most active volcanoes
on Earth - Mauna Loa and Kilauea.

There are currently three active volcanoes in Hawaii. Maunaloa last erupted in 1984 and Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983.

Loihi is located underwater off the southern coast of Hawaii's Big Island.  It has been erupting out of sight since 1996.  It could break through the surface anywhere from 10,000 to 250,000 years from to begin adding a ninth distinct island to the Hawaiian chain.
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