Lava eruption at Kilauea spews 'Pele's hair' volcanic glass into Hawaii's skies

Kilauea's eruption as seen at dawn local on September 30. Multiple fissures at the base of the crater and west wall are producing lava fountains. A lava lake is also growing in Halema'uma'u.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Weather Service, Kilauea volcano is currently erupting. This sends lava and thread-like pieces volcanic glass (known as Pele's Hair) into Hawaii's skies.

At 3:20 p.m. Hawaii time on Wednesday, September 29, the eruption started when the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory saw a glow coming from Kilauea summit's webcam. The glow was a sign of a lava explosion at Halema'uma'u, a pit crater located in the larger Kilauea caldera or crater.

The USGS released a statement saying that the webcam footage showed fissures at Halema'uma'u'u crater, which were releasing lava flows onto lava lake. This eruption had been active since May 2021. The eruption at Kilauea, located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii's Big Island, is not currently a danger to the public.

Similar: Photos: Fiery Lava from Kilauea volcano erupts onto Hawaii's Big Island

"At the moment, we don’t believe anyone or any residents are at risk, but we do want folks to know that the park remains open," Cyrus Johnasen (a spokesperson for Hawaii County) told Hawaii news station KHON2 Sept. 29. It will be open until the evening. He advised that people with respiratory problems should exercise caution.

According to the USGS, however, the area of the park where the eruptions are taking place is currently closed to the public.

Low lava fountain at the centre of the growing Halema'uma'u Lava Lake. Image credit: M. Patrick/USGS

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory raised Kilauea’s volcano alert level to "warning" and changed its aviation code from orange to red to warn pilots of possible ash emission. These are the highest warning levels and indicate that a major volcanic eruption is likely, underway, or suspected with hazardous activity both in the air and on the ground. According to the USGS

Image 1 of 2. The eruption at Halema'uma'u'u crater has been producing low-level lava fountains along the western wall Halema'uma'u. Image credit: M. Patrick/USGS. Image 2 of 2. Telephoto image showing fissures at Halema'uma'u'u crater in the ongoing eruption that began Septe. 29 at Kilauea. Image credit: M. Patrick/USGS

According to the National Weather Service, pilots who flew near Kilauea Wednesday night reported seeing volcanic glass, also known as Pele's Hair. When gas bubbles in lava burst, they create the golden, sharp strands that are named after Pele, the Hawaiian goddess who is associated with fire and volcanoes.

Don Swanson, a Hawaiian Volcano Observatory research geologist, said that the skin from the bursting bubbles is blown out and some of it becomes stretched into very long threads.

Swanson warned that although Pele's hair is beautiful, it can pose a risk if it is ingested in drinking water.

This eruption is the latest in a long line of volcanic activity at Kilauea. The shield-shaped volcano is located at 4,009 feet (1.222 m) aboveground. According to the USGS, its magma-pumping network extends more than 37 mi (60 km) below Earth. Kilauea has erupted 34 time since 1952. It also erupted nearly continuously from 1983 to 2018, along its East Rift Zone. From 2008 to 2018, a vent at Halema'uma'u was the site of an active lava lake and a strong gas plume.

Kilauea's volcanic activities were also prominent in May 2018, when the lava lake at its summit caldera was drained, just as the Eastern Rift Zone was roaring to life with new fissures and lava fountains. The lava created a hot river that destroyed hundreds before rushing into the ocean.

Between December 2020 and May 2021, a summit volcano created a lava lake in Halema'uma'u'u crater. In August 2021, small earthquakes shaken the summit.

Original publication on Live Science