Kilauea Has Added a Mile to the Big Island’s Coastline

Aug 7, 2018

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Last month, the US Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory released a report analyzing the effects of the Kilauea volcano Lower East Rift Zone (LERZ) eruption on the Big Island. One of the most notable findings? The Big Island’s coastline may have grown as much as a mile since the volcano started erupting in May.

According to Benjamin Andrews, a geologist at the National Museum of Natural History, the extended coastline is a lava delta that has been building up over the past few months.

“This delta is not super stable,” Andrews told TPG. “Portions of it can and probably will collapse. So although … the coastline of Hawaii will almost certainly be larger than it started … by the time this eruption ends, portions of this ‘new land’ will almost certainly collapse into the sea.”

“Although the coastline may grow a little bit, that new land will not be particularly stable, and staying away from the toe of the delta — or any of the ocean entries — is the best idea.”

In addition to a bigger Big Island, the eruption at Kilauea has formed an entirely new island off the coast of Hawaii. The miniature islet, measuring no more than 30 feet in diameter, was discovered by the USGS during a mid-July flyover.

Like Hawaii’s new coast, the island is unlikely to survive intact, according to Paul Segall, a geophysics professor at Stanford University.

The USGS report concluded that, based on the “current style of activity at a high eruption rate,” the Kilauea volcano could take “months to a year or two to wind down.” And changes in the channel system suggest the eruption could actually become a lengthier and more destructive eruption as time goes on.

As Andrews pointed out, however, this isn’t entirely unusual. After all, the Pu’u O’o eruption at Kilauea began in 1983 — and it has yet to cease. “What has made this eruption notable,” Andrews said of LERZ, “are its impacts on people … if these flows were occurring several miles to the south, in the national park, they would be of much less concern.”

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