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NASA Image Shows Lava Flows from Space

May 26, 2018, 7:14 PM HST
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NASA released this image of Leilani Estates taken on Wednesday, May 23, 2018.

As of May 25, 2018, geologists with the U.S. Geological Survey were tracking 23 fissures. One of the most active is fissure 22, which has shed enough lava to create a channel that extends all the way to Hawaii’s southeastern coast. That lava is entering the ocean near MacKenzie State Park. Though it is routine for lava from Kīlauea to reach the ocean, this is a new entry point.

Click to enlarge. (NASA Photo acquired May 23, 2018)

The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired the data for this false-color view of the lava flow as it appeared on the night of May 23, 2018. The image is based on OLI’s observations of shortwave infrared and green light (bands 6-5-3). It was cloudy when the data was acquired, but a small break in the clouds made it possible to image the lava flows. The purple areas surrounding the flows are clouds lit from below. The animation also makes use of a daytime-image from OLI, with information about the location of roads and coastlines.

Geologists with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory are monitoring the fissure eruptions closely. While seismometers and other ground-based instruments can track the underground movement of magma to some degree, it is not possible to predict with a high degree of accuracy how long a particular fissure will remain active or how much lava it will produce.

In the coming weeks, magma may continue to emerge from new fissures or slip back and forth between existing fissures. “Or the eruption could concentrate on some central vent,” explained Patrick Whelley, a planetary geologist working at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “It’s uncertain if this is a new phase for Kīlauea or if this is just a short-lived escalation, and the activity will go back to Pu‘u O‘o in a month or so.”

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