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March 7, 2011 / Dave Gorham

USA Volcano Erupts

Considered not only the most active volcano in the United States, but one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii began erupting Saturday with lava ejected as high as 65 feet from the summit. In fact, the Puʻu ʻŌʻō cone, part of the eastern rift of Kīlauea, has been continuously spewing lava since 1983 and there have been more than 53 eruptions since 1952. And now a new vent is responsible for the most recent activity.

The five volcanoes (and their regions of lava) that make up Hawaii. Image: Wikipedia

Volcanic plumes from Kilauea rising up from three locations: Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, Puʻu ʻŌʻō Crater, and from along the coastline where lava flows from the East Rift zone were entering the ocean. Photo: Wikipedia

At the summit, lava receded rapidly late Saturday but seemed to slow Sunday. There were also about 150 small earthquakes recorded within Kīlauea during the past 24 hours. Scientists said areas near the vent could erupt or collapse without warning, posing a threat to visitors or hikers to the area. Also potentially lethal concentrations of sulfer dioxide gas could be present within about a half-mile downwind of vent areas. Because of the latest activity, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has closed Chain of Craters Road and all east rift zone and coastal trails. Kulanaokuaiki campground was also closed until further notice. No homes are under threat.

Kilauea in 1954. Image: Wikipedia

Kīlauea is visited by millions of tourists each year, making it the most visited attraction in Hawaii and the most visited volcano in the world. Kīlauea is classified as a shield volcano.

Other volcanos within the Pacific Ring of Fire are active as well, including two in Guatemala. On March 3rd, an explosion occurred from the Caliente crater at Santa Maria volcano in Guatemala. Ash emissions reached 10,800 feet above sea level and produced ashfall in towns to the west and southwest of the volcano. The explosion generated a pyroclastic flow which moved 1.5 miles down the southwest side. Activity continued on March 4th with moderate explosions ejecting ash to a height of 11,000 feet and ashfall on surrounding farms.

Eruptions continue at Fuego Volcano, Guatemala. During the night, explosions ejected lava more than 300 feet above the crater and sent avalanches down surrounding valleys. Rumbling sounds were heard and audible degassing (gas escaping from the pyroclastic flow and from within the crater) lasted up to six minutes at a time. Ash emissions reached a height of 2,500 feet above the crater and drifted south and southwest.

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