July 12: USGS Conference Call

There was a lot of good info in the Thursday conference call with members of the media. BigIslandVideoNews posted a recording of most of it:

Full audio archived here.

  • Leslie Gordon, USGS Public Affairs Officer
  • Matthew Foster, meteorologist, NWS
  • Jessica Ferracane, NPS, HVNP Public Affairs
  • Janet Babb, geologist, HVO/USGS
  • Mike Zoellner, geologist, Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes, UHI
Transcript – July 11 Eruption Update

Janet Babb, USGS:  On the Lower East Rift Zone, Fissure 8 continues to erupt, and overnight the channelized flow that was diverted from the main channel that went west of Kapoho Crater advanced to the ocean, and, unfortunately, in its path, it destroyed the Kua O Ko La Charter School and the Ahalanui Beach Park area. And there’s now a new, very robust ocean entry plume near the Ahalanui Beach Park area. So in all, the flow front at the ocean now is about 3.7 miles wide.

In this morning’s overflight, there were no other fissures that appeared to be active.

At the summit, following yesterday’s early morning collapse/explosion that released energy equivalent to a magnitude 5.3 earthquake, the earthquakes have resumed— there was a period of quiet, but the earthquakes have resumed and currently the summit area is experiencing about 25-30 earthquakes per hour. This pattern is expected to continue.

As far as gas emissions at the summit, the gas emissions remain low, and on the Lower East Rift Zone, the gas emissions remain high. And with that, of course, the problems with vog continue with those high emissions.

Jessica Ferracane, Hawaii Volcanoes Nat’l Park: Good morning. I don’t have much to report today. Today is Day 63 of the park closure for anybody who is keeping count. Damage continues on a daily basis. We’ve been noticing lots of sinkholes in the park, as well as on Highway 11, as you know. HDOT fixed that one big one by Piimauna earlier, but we are additional cracking on the highway as well as some of the trails have been noticed. Staff has noticed that Crater Rim Trail between Kīlauea Military Camp and Jaggar Museum has some pretty significant sinkholes and cracking along the [???] part of that trail as well as other locations in the park. And I’m moving on trying to get a list going of that damage and collating photography that folks have been sending me.

As far as events that are going outside of the park, our ranger talks are continuing at the Mokupāpapa Discovery Center. Every third Thursday, they have an evening lecture. And next Thursday, July 19,  a week from today, from 5:30 to 6:30, our park ranger Dean Gallagher will provide an extended Kilauea eruption update for visitors. That’s a free event. And that again is July 19, 5:30 to 6:30. We will provide a ranger talk at that location.

Matthew Foster, meteorologist, NWS:  So over the next week, we’re going to be dealing with moderate to fresh trade winds of 15-20 mph well into the middle of next week, maybe edging up just slightly at the end of the weekend into early next week, more closer to 20 mph at that point. Volcanic emissions, vog dispersion is going to be toward the southwest, so that’s good. As far as the rest of today, may just be a few clouds and showers over the Leilani Estates and the area. But overall fairly dry. We’re going to see some increasing showers on Friday. These will be kind of typical tradewind showers as additional moisture starts moving in. Right now, [???] it’s around 150 west, moving in our direction.

We’re going to get another boost in the moisture beginning on Saturday on through Sunday night. The area around 140 west, bringing— with higher moisture content— bringing potentially heavier showers home through the weekend. And we get a little bit of a dry spell Monday into Tuesday,  again with trade winds, and then a possible disturbance passing to the south of the [?date?] in the middle of next week around Tuesday night-Wednesday, that may skirt across the windward side of the Big Island. So we’ll have to kind of see. It’s questionable whether or not it’ll get there or not. So. But in short, sort of, increasing showers beginning Friday, again through the weekend, and then Tuesday night into Wednesday possibly wetter at that point again.

As far as the rain potential, as we’ve seen in the past couple weeks, that all the heat from the lava amplifies the instability in the atmosphere, allowing otherwise innocuous tradewind showers to become somewhat heavier. As well, when we get into Saturday afternoon and Sunday, it could be a trigger for thunderstorms as well.

Questions & Answers

Q: How many times throughout this eruption cycle has the tradewinds died down to the point where the SO2 and the vog is not being carried off to the south? And what levels have emissions risen to…when the tradewinds do die off? 

Matthew Foster, NHS: [Doesn’t know SO2 amounts] It’s happened a couple of times where the trade winds have died and we kind of go into this diurnal flow pattern with upsloping winds during the day and downsloping at night. Usually this time of year that doesn’t happen too often. We usually… we’re at our peak tradewind time. So they’re usually pretty persistent. In fact July is like our highest month in terms of number of days with tradewinds.

Q: Do you know about what time lava covered the springs and school property overnight? And will it continue to travel further down south?

Mike Zoellner, Center for Study of Active Volcanoes: I believe that the school was covered sometime in the morning yesterday [July 11] and then the ocean entry at Ahalanui started in the evening. I don’t have the exact times down to the hour. I believe it was in the early evening.

[Bruce Omori posted that as of July 11, 6pm overflight, “I am saddened to report that Ahalanui Beach Park (Warm Ponds) and Kua O Ka Lā Public Charter School were lost to the eruption this afternoon.” I had seen other reports of same on social media early evening HST, before he posted that some hours later.]

Q: Chance of collapse of lava delta?

Janet Babb, HVO/USGS: That really remains to be seen. When lava goes into the ocean and builds new land that we refer to as a lava delta, how stable that new land is really depends on the preexisting offshore topography. And so that’s— right now, where the lava’s been going into the ocean is a fairly shallow shelf out there. It’s not a really steep incline like we saw with the ocean entry with the 61g flow [from Puʻu ʻŌʻō] earlier. And so it’s hard to say at this point what delta collapses might occur, how big they might be. As this delta continues to grow, if it continues to grow and push farther out into the ocean, where then we do get a steeper dropoff to the ocean floor, that’s when things would become more unstable and more likely to fail and to cause delta collapses.

Q: In looking at the map, it looks like you couldn’t answer the question exactly, but I have had people ask: do you sense that it’s approaching Pohoiki Boat Ramp? 

Mike Zoellner: For the lava where it’s currently entering the ocean to start encroaching on Pohoiki would require it to travel laterally along the coast. Which is probably not imminent, but we did see that occur as the ocean entry at Kapoho lasted for several weeks. It started to shift more and more to the south. So there’s no suggestion that a threat to Pohoiki is imminent, but something could develop down the road.

Janet Babb: The other option would be if other fissures reactivated that were more directly upslope of Pohoiki.

Q: Last week Tina Neal said the SO2 emissions from Fissure 8 were increasing. […] higher than the rate that you had seen at the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater in recent years. Can you tell me the last time that SO2 levels have reached this degree?

Janet Babb: Well, when the summit vent opened in 2008, we saw a very sharp increase in emissions of sulfur dioxide at the summit. And so any time a new vent opens, that’s really when we see high emissions of sulfur dioxide, or when we have high flux, in other words a lot of lava being erupted. And that’s what’s happening right now. We have a high volume of lava being erupted, and so there’s a lot of gas being released. And so that’s the reason for this high SO2 rate that we’re experiencing right now, is because there’s such a high volume of lava being erupted.

And as far as the exact amount, the emissions are high enough that it presents a real challenge to get them measured. Our instruments can be basically swamped, and we’re looking at new and different ways to get a measurement of these gases. But they’re on the order of tens of thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide per day.

Q: [What came of USGS flyover earlier this week?]

Janet: Ok. Well, the purpose of those overflights was to look at the deformation of the summit. They were actually flying using a laser system to develop a Digital Elevation Model of the summit. They had been using the UAVs, or more commonly known as drones, to image the summit in order to build these elevation models, but the UAVs were having difficulty with wind. Wind was creating a problem for them. And so it was decided that using helicopters would be better. And so it’s a laser system. It’s called LIDAR. You can look that up on how that works exactly, but it’s basically laser data that they’re using to build an elevation model.  And the reason for that is twofold. One is to look for changes at the summit as the summit is collapsing— to look for changes in that, and also to look for any new cracks that might be developing in the summit area.

Q: How long will that take, and will it be publicly available?

Janet: I’m not sure how that will work. As far as I know, it is going to be— you’ve seen versions of this already on our website, possibly from the UAVs. When we post them on our Photo Chronology, they look like a shaded relief map. And so you get the three dimensional appearance of what the summit looks like. And that’s what will ultimately be produced from these models.

Q: Were you able to get USGS assets out of the charter school? [they had a station there.]

Mike Zoellner: There was an attempt to retrieve those. There were some batteries  onsite that were powering some of our monitoring instruments that were stationed there at the school. An attempt to retrieve them was made, but it was ultimately unsuccessful because the flow moved in too fast and destroyed our monitoring station around the same time that the school was destroyed.

[Followup: what equipment?]

There was a seismometer, yes. There was also a continuously-recording GPS instrument, there was an infrasound instrument, and the associated solar panel and power system as well.

Q: [Summit collapse: is there a level at which that bottoms out? How far/deep could it go?]

Mike: It’s really hard to say, because we have some vague idea of the size of the shallow reservoir under Halemaʻumaʻu, but because our instruments can only look at the upper part of the reservoir, we’re not really sure how deep it goes. We do think that we may eventually reach a point where the input into the reservoir from the mantle might match the amount that’s exiting into the rift zone, and at that point things might stabilize, but so far we have not seen any indication that we’re reaching that point. Based on that document that USGS put out last week, we think that our most likely scenario for the next couple months is continued subsidence at about the rate that we’re seeing right now.

Q: [Is HIDOT or NPS in charge of monitoring/keeping Highway 11 open through the park, or deciding to close it?]

Jessica Park: Yes, Highway 11 where it runs through Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is in the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Hawai’i Department of Transportation does highway maintenance to it and helps fix the potholes and sinkholes and certainly came to that to repair the big damage that occurred— it was actually last Thursday. And the ultimate decision, it’s made jointly between Hawai’i Department of Transportation, the park, as well as— Civil Defense has some say in it. And those three agencies are working  concurrently right now to determine what should happen if Highway 11 is compromised further.