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How lava builds new land that can suddenly collapse--enjoy the show, but be aware of potential danger

Lava erupting from the Pu`u `O`o vent on the east rift zone of Kilauea began entering the sea early on July 19 only 600 meters from the end of the Chain of Craters Road in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. A second lava flow covered the road and entered the sea on July 21. The lava flows, arms of the larger Mother?s Day flow, are rapidly adding new land to the coast.

Since mid June, the Mother's Day lava flow has been easily accessible and has provided safe, spectacular viewing conditions for tens of thousands of park visitors. Now that lava is once again spilling into the sea and building new land, however, viewing has become more unpredictable and potentially dangerous for people.

Sketch of an explosion caused by collapse of new land, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i
New land built by lava can collapse into the sea with little warning, sometimes resulting in explosions that blast lava spatter and large rocks into the air and send scalding water onshore.

Check out the following information to learn more about how lava builds new land, how that land can collapse into the sea, and what to be concerned about when viewing lava. With this information, you should be able to watch the spectacular show enjoyably and safely.

Archive of previous feature stories

  Pahoehoe flow moves along base of Pulama Pali, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i
Photograph by R. Hoblitt
16 May 2002

Pahoehoe flow at base of Pulama pali

Leading edge of the Boundary flow on the east side of the active flow field spills over the rough surface of earlier flows. Here, the slow-moving flow is about 2.5 km from the ocean. In bottom photo, lava flowing through vegetation about 3 km from the coast frequently triggers methane explosions within a few tens of meters of flow margins. Learn more about methane explosions

See Kilauea eruption update for status of this flow.

Archive of Featured Photographs

  Sluggish pahoehoe lava moves through rainforest at base of Pulama pali, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i
Photograph by R. Hoblitt
16 May 2002


More Volcano Information from HVO and Beyond

Earthquake seismogramReport a felt earthquake to HVO using this form.
More USGS Volcano Web sites

Volcano WatchCurrent issue of Volcano Watch essay, written weekly by USGS scientists.
National Park ServiceHawai`i Volcanoes National Park, home to HVO. Find visitor information and resources here. Graphic: Kids DoorVolcanoes for kids, from the Volcano World website.