Sunday, 14 September 2008

Fire and brimstone

I grew up in England and am used to waking up to foggy mornings, especially around this time of year, but in Hawai`i? And what's with the strong smell of sulphur?

Well, the Big Island is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but nature likes to balance things out and this place is subject to almost all the natural disasters one can think of, including tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and volcanic activity. It's the last of these that causes what's known as VOG, or volcanic fog.

The island is made up of five volcanoes, Kohala, Hualalai, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Mauna Loa and Kilauea are the most active and Kilauea has been erupting continuously for around the last 25 years, but not at the summit. This changed a few months ago when a new vent appeared at the summit (Halema`uma`u) along with a few small explosive eruptions (the first since 1924 apparently). Just recently the researchers at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) managed to get a glimpse down the vent and found that there is a large molten lava lake just underneath the crater's surface. Oh great - I live about 20 miles from the summit!

Normally the trade winds blow from the east and the volcanic plume is blown over towards the west side of the island, but on days like today when the trades have stopped, the plume just lingers around the summit and slowly spreads throughout the local area. This stuff is nasty, it's mainly sulphur dioxide which can cause people severe breathing problems. There have been some evacuations recently due to this.

Hopefully the trades will return soon and blow this stuff away.

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