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LETTER: Is Lava the Ultimate Lemon?

June 12, 2018, 11:59 AM HST (Updated June 12, 2018, 11:59 AM)
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It isn’t possible to read the accounts and see the images of those affected and displaced by the lava flows, and not be moved. Judging by our comments and criticisms, we need to be angry with someone and at the same time understanding with someone else.

Why did the state/county allow/permit residential construction in such an unstable area? Why did the folks who built/bought there do so despite the extreme risks? Who is responsible for what, NOW? And what to do after NOW?

I can’t answer any of these questions, but I do have some thoughts on a very different path forward.

When I was a very much younger man, I visited Niagara Falls, twice. On the first visit all was ‘normal’
and I was floored, the second trip the falls were ‘stopped’ and I was blown away. Yes, stopped. I had no idea at the time that such a thing could even be done (turned out it was routine). My life lesson; Nature is incredibly impressive. So are human beings. Turns out we can do things that look a lot like magic when we put our minds to it.

I think we are looking at Kilauea and the lava produced all wrong. If we fear it blindly, we can do little but flee when it comes near. Of course, it is a force to be reckoned with, but it is a force of nature and a material of our earth, not of the Dark Star.

Then what is it? I think it is an incredibly valuable resource that we have entirely missed and by allowing it to flow aimlessly into the sea, it’s true worth is compromised. The USGS has warned that lava flow into the seawater (forming deltas) is unsafe and unsound owing largely to the ‘unincorporated’ nature of the lava when cooled. We can, and should, change that dynamic.

Major Kim recently commented that no one should rebuild in Zone 1. I agree completely, well, almost. I think that residential rebuilding in Zone 1 (and perhaps, other zones as well) should be prohibited and a consolidated industrial zone created in its place. The products of this zone? Lava. In the form of preforms uniquely required by island needs. Cooled. Stress-relieved. The short story; an active molten lava ‘factory’ where the raw material, in liquid form, is provided by our magical island home and is
‘manufactured’ into an endless variety of shapes and uses. In the process, flows can be redirected away from populated areas. At the same time, much of the outgassing and particulates can be reduced or eliminated through a system of downhill venting operated by pumped seawater vortex aspirators.

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We all know the life and lemons wisdom and the danger of an economy that manufactures nothing while relying up to 98% on a sometimes-fickle tourist trade. Does this not begin to feel like the ‘ultimate’ lemon?

Many will say that molten lava cannot be ‘managed’. I believe that the data suggests otherwise. Molten lava here has been reported typically in the 2100-2200°F range. Molten glass furnaces typically operate in the 2300-2800°F range (upwards from 3000°F for Vycor and quartz). Steel furnaces routinely operated above 2900°F.

The folks who worked around these demons for a lifetime, know most of the secrets needed to get the jobs done while staying alive. We should talk to them before they are gone. Obviously, the temperatures of molten glass vs. steel vs. lava is only one aspect of the issue; my point is to illustrate
that what might be believed is not always true.

We should ask the question; What has been done to ‘manage’ the lava flow (in either its path or flowrate)? What has been tried and failed? Isn’t the loss of seven hundred homes (this time) worth, at the very least, an effort to try to avoid it again elsewhere?

Letters, commentaries and opinion pieces are not edited by Big Island Now.

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