Lava from Hawaii’s Kīlauea volcano, which has been erupting for more than a month, started streaming into Kapoho Bay on Sunday night. As George Dvorsky reports for Gizmodo, the United States Geological Survey has released incredible footage of the billowing—and potentially toxic—plumes of steam that flowed over the coastline as the lava hit the Pacific Ocean’s cool waters.
The USGS captured the scene on the morning of June 4, by which point lava had been pouring into the bay for several hours. A reaction between the lava, which reaches scalding temperatures of 2,140 degrees Fahrenheit, and the water produces something known as “laze” (a portmanteau of lava and haze)—a mixture of hydrochloric acid, huge clouds of steam, and tiny particles of volcanic glass. Laze can irritate the skin, eyes and lungs, and the USGS cautions that the ocean coastline is now a hazardous area.
A second video, taken several hours later, shows that dark lava has filled the bay. In the footage, billowing clouds continue to rise as ocean waves crash onto the hardened lava.
Nathan Rott of NPR reports that the lava flowed forth from a fissure in the Leilani Estates neighborhood of Hawaii’s Big Island—miles away from Kapoho Bay. As it crept towards the ocean, the fiery river swallowed up forests and houses.
“We don't have an estimate yet, but safe to say that hundreds of homes were lost,” Hawaii County spokesperson Janet Snyder told reporters, according to Rott. The Kīlauea eruption had previously destroyed 117 homes and forced the evacuation of at least 2,000 Big Island residents.
Kīlauea has been erupting since 1983, but a major burst of activity began on May 3. Over the past few weeks, Kīlauea has shot fountains of lava into the air, emitted plumes of ash and “vog,” and hurled large rocks up from its crater.
Hardened lava from the most recent flow has now altered the landscape of Kapoho Bay, creating a blackened delta of earth more than half a mile off the coastline. As David Mace, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, observed in an interview with NPR’s Rott: “Kapoho Bay is now Kapoho Point.”