It has been 27 days since the massive eruption of Kilauea sent lava gushing from cracks, spreading destruction through communities in the southeastern corner of Hawaii’s Big Island. And now volcanic haze drifting across 4,000 miles threatens some residents of Guam, according to officials.
The National Weather Service reported volcanic haze produced by the activity of the rumbling volcano has been carried along by strong winds over the Mariana Islands.
“Residents with respiratory health problems should stay indoors and avoid being outdoors when haze is seen,” Guam’s homeland security office said in a statement. “Mariners and pilots should be aware of lower visibilities caused by this haze.”
Although the haze does not contain sulfur dioxide or other toxic chemicals, a NWS official told NPR the particles in the air can still be harmful to people with sensitive respiratory systems. The official added the haze is expected to dissipate by the end of Thursday morning but will likely return as Kilauea continues to erupt.
On the island, conditions have worsened. Each day brings some sort of geologic phenomenon, including laze, blue flames, vog, ash clouds, ballistic blocks, splatter bombs, sky-high lava fountains, ash plumes, and more than 2000 earthquakes.
On Wednesday U.S. Geological Survey officials warned fast-moving lava threatened to tear through more homes in the already ravaged communities of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens. They estimated violent eruptions of molten rock spewing out of a nearby fissure — Fissure 8 — were burning through anything in its path at a rate of 600 yards per hour.
Additionally, a lava fountain rising out of the crack in the Earth was spraying more than 200 feet into the air, and multiple secondary fountains reached 60 feet.
The USGS reported the fiery springs have caused sharp, thin strands of volcanic glass fibers called “Pele’s hair” to fall from the sky throughout the Leilani Estates and Pahoa region. The dangerous fibers — named after Hawaiian fire and volcano goddess Pele — are produced when lava splatter droplets cools rapidly in the air and can cause skin and eye irritation similar to volcanic ash.
Officials are urging people to steer clear of tiny and abrasive particles of glass.
Meanwhile, Hawaii County Civil Defense scrambled to get residents out of Kapoho, a neighborhood north of Leilani Estates, before they became trapped by advancing lava.
“You are at risk of being isolated due to possible lava inundation of Beach Road near Four Corners,” the USGS warned Wednesday.
Volcanic gas emissions, consisting of sulfuric dioxide also remained “very high” and the weather exacerbated the poor air quality. Wind conditions in the coming days means “vog” — volcanic gas mixed with ash — is expected to spread over the island, according to the USGS.
Hawaii Public Radio reported about 22 fissures have torn open the ground and at least 40 homes have been wrecked since May 3. More than 2,000 acres of land have been smothered by lava and about 200 people are staying in emergency shelters.
The most recent map of lava flows can be found here.
The agency has been updating the public, disseminating vital safety information and responding to questions over Twitter since early May but on Tuesday, officials took some time to respond to an odd query: Jay Furr wanted to know, “Is it safe to roast marshmallows over volcanic vents? Assuming you had a long enough stick, that is? Or would the resulting marshmallows be poisonous?”
“Erm…we’re going to have to say no, that’s not safe. (Please don’t try!),” replied the USGS before delivering a little science. “If the vent is emitting a lot of SO2 or H2S, they would taste BAD. And if you add sulfuric acid (in vog, for example) to sugar, you get a pretty spectacular reaction.”
The good sports at the USGS chose not to specify exactly what happens when sulfuric acid and sugar are mixed, but many others on the Internet have and you can see them here.