Hawaii's young, vibrant Kilauea volcano shows no signs of slowing.
On May 4, the first lavage-woolen rift in the neighborhood of Leilani Estates on the east flank of Kilauea opened. Soon after, 16 more cracks open in the area.
Near the gently sloping volcano, a lava lake, recently filled with steaming molten rock, has now run out. An event that government scientists now say could trigger a rare explosive explosion from the ominous pit (19659004) But volcanologists, though fairly good at determining when a volcano might erupt, do not have the same ability to predict when an eruption might end.
"It's hard not to say with certainty," said Michael Poland, the senior scientist at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory of the US Geological Survey, in an interview. "The prediction of the end is surprisingly difficult."
But in the case of Kilauea, there is strong evidence that the outbreak could last for weeks, if not months, Poland said.
When lava comes out of the ground, the USGS carefully collects and analyzes parts of the molten melt rock. And since the activity of the volcano increased in early May, the composition of the lava has changed.
At first, the lava was the same material that spit out of the volcano for about 60 years, Poland said. Now another, "fresh" type of lava comes out of the ground, meaning that new magma (underground lava) is moving deep inside the volcano, which could continue the eruption.
"This is a sign It could take weeks to months," said Poland.
At Kilauea, two large lava-filled vents have emptied, suggesting that their lava broke into the surrounding area and that new sources continue to feed the eruption.
About 90 percent of the surface of Kilauea is covered with geologically fresh lava that is less than 1000 years old, which means the young volcano is still growing growing in a gently sloping "shield-like" shape.
The eruption we see today is "quite normal for a shield volcano," said Poland. "But that's a small consolation for the people who live there."
It is only unknown how long each outbreak will last.
"Weeks to months is a pretty good estimate," Klemetti said. "But it would not shock me if it took longer."
"But if it ended soon, it would surprise me more."