IT LOOKS like a minor miracle. A tiny stretch of road has escaped the lava flows from the latest eruption of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, which is still menacing a corner of Big Island two months after it began.
So frequent are such scenes in a place regularly scorched by volcanic activity that they have a name: kipukas. This example is in Leilani Estates, a community on the south-east coast of the island where many homes have been destroyed since the eruption began on 3 May. The flows pictured here started bubbling up through fissures well away from Kilauea’s main crater, engulfing whole streets and sparking evacuations.
Kipukas are usually spared because the land is slightly higher than the lava flow. However, once the lava starts to cool it expands, as more of the gas it contains comes out of solution. This can make it rise above the untouched patch, leaving onlookers wondering how it survived. Kipukas range from a few square metres to square kilometres. Nature quickly turns them into islands of vegetation, thanks to seeds spread by the wind or birds.
When might Kilauea’s latest eruption ease up? Last week, Jessica Johnson at the University of East Anglia, UK, who spent two years studying the volcano, said there had been no change in Kilauea’s activity, such as small earthquakes, ground deformation and gases released, that would indicate magma flow is lessening. “Past eruptions in this area have lasted several months, but eruptions like this can last anything from a couple of hours to 35 years. It is very difficult to say when it might end.”
Olivier Grunewald, oliviergrunewald.com
This article appeared in print under the headline “Island oasis”
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