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Viewer Photo: Steam Rising From Cooling 2018 Lava Flow

December 5, 2020, 2:36 PM HST
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PC: Sean Yarbenet

Local photographer Sean Yarbenet captured images of steam and a red glow coming from the 2018 Kīlauea lava flow cooling in an area on Pāhoa-Kapoho Road or Highway 132.

On Nov. 28, Yarbenet told Big Island Now he’d been working in Pāhoa and frequenting the new road through the lava flow.

“Usually it’s super mellow there, but yesterday the ground was absolutely steaming,” Yarbenet said. “Hot gas was coming out of the cracks, (it) was quite a sight.”

Geologist Katherine M. Mulliken with the US Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) viewed the photo this week and said the steam was likely a reflection of the ongoing cooling process of the thick lava flows.

Mulliken went on to explain that there are areas along Highway 132 that do commonly exhibit steaming, especially after rain. Buried plant material can also generate heat/steam as it decomposes (like composting).

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HVO wrote a Volcano Watch article titled: “Why is the 2018 lava still so hot?” The article explains how lava flows are good insulators, retaining heat below the surface well after the top surface of the lava flow is cool and solidified.

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“So, we expect that the 2018 lava flows will take years to fully cool and there will continue be steaming along Highway 132 as this cooling process goes on,” Mulliken said.

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