Shelby: It is not every day you get to see a volcanic eruption up close.
We are flying over hot lava right now. You can see all of the smoke and you can see some of the trees burning.
So, looking down on Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park is one eye-opening experience. If you look closely, you can see the actual lava moving over the lava flow. Below us is the fiery flow of Mt. Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
The volcano’s Pu’u O’o crater has been erupting for thirty years straight. Every day, it puts out enough lava to fill as many as 200 Olympic-sized swimming pools. It is slowly creating lava fields. In fact, since Pu’u O’o first burst open in 1983, its cooled and hardened lava has added 500 acres of new land to the island of Hawaii. Back on the ground, we learned even more about this fierce force of nature.
Ranger Dean: Aloha and welcome to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, or as we say in Hawaiian, e komo mai! Can you see it going all the way around us?
Shelby: As Ranger Dean showed me, you don’t need a helicopter to witness the wonder of Hawaii’s most popular park. Exploring volcanoes by foot, you can see and feel the forces of volcanic activity.
I am actually standing over an active steam vent. Steam is coming out of the ground because below us is a magma chamber. It is heating up all this rock, and then it is releasing steam into the air. So it kind of feels like you are standing in a steam room.
The park also boasts wondrous wildlife, cool caves created by lava tubes…
So, lava flowed through here 550 years ago.
…And massive fields featuring all kinds of unique rocks.
Ranger Dean: You are really standing on one of the youngest places on Earth. In fact, all this land we are standing on was built in 1974.
Shelby: What was here before that?
Ranger Dean: Before that, would have been another lava flow. And then this lava is covering over the old one and starting the process again.
Shelby: And that is what makes Hawaii bigger and bigger each year?
Ranger Dean: Every year.
Shelby: Sometimes, Kilauea’s lava cools and slows on the land, creating beautiful patterns like this Pahoehoe flow. Other times, the only thing powerful enough to stop the molten rock streams is the cool water of the Pacific.
Oh, here comes a wave! Woo! Right behind me is the Holei Sea Arch. And this is where the lava meets the sea.
It is easy to see why the wonders of Volcanoes National Park attract more than a million visitors every year. But such awesome forces of nature aren’t always kind to humans. Kilauea’s lava has destroyed more than 200 homes and structures in recent decades. And Pu’u O’o’s constant eruption is changing not only the land, but the air as well.
Now, the volcano doesn’t just release lava, it can also release harmful greenhouse gases, like CO2. And behind me is the Halemaumau Crater. And above it, you can see volcanic smog, or vog. That vog can be dangerous to humans. And on windy days, visitors are warned to stay away from certain areas, or even avoid the park altogether. But the biggest threat facing the park is manmade. The native plants and animals in the misty rainforest around Kilauea are under attack from invasive species – plants and animals that didn’t exist in the ecosystem until humans brought them to the island on ships. More than fifty plants, animals and insects there are considered threatened or endangered, including Hawaii’s state bird, the Nene.
Park officials are doing what they can to remove the invasive species and replant and restore the park’s natural habitat. They are focusing on saving four key species: the Nene, Hawaiian Petrel, Hawksbill turtle and Ka’u silversword. And they are hoping park visitors can help too. Visitors are encouraged to leave the park just the way they found it. And that means no souvenir lava rocks.
Ranger Dean: You just have to remind them that the parks belong to everyone and they are supposed to be here for children – our children’s children – to enjoy, not to be taken away.
Shelby: Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.