Helicopter fun!

1 09 2008

On Thursday I went on a geology overflight to Kupaianaha and Pu`u O`o. This area of Kilauea is in its 24th year of eruption. Pu`u O`o is a parasitic cinder cone on the flank of Kilauea, and Kupaianaha is a shield that has formed 3km down from Pu`u` O`o.

The first part of the flight consisted of travelling down the path of the flows towards the current ocean entry.

This is a view to the northeast. The older flows are darker, and the younger flows are silvery.

This is the ocean entry plume shot from above. The lava is pouring into the ocean from a lava tube that is just under the hardened surface flows. The plume is poisonous sulfur dioxide gas (SO2).

Here’s a shot of the plume as we were flying away. Helicopters can induce some funky camera angles.

The helicopter dropped us off further up the flow field so that we could take some measurements. Two of my colleagues are performing Total station measurements with Pu`u O`o in the background. These measurements help us to determine how the ground around the active lava flows and lava tubes is deforming. We can measure elevation change and distances, among other things.

After we finished with the Total station, we hiked towards Pu`u O`o to map a new seep of “toothpaste” lava. This texture of lava is considered to be a transitional stage between smooth pahoehoe and rough a`a flows. We use GPS tracklogging and walk along the boundary of the seep to create the map. That’s what I’m doing here.

The lava seep is from just a few months ago, so the lava itself has an interesting array of colors and textures. There are many small vents of hot SO2 that waft up from beneath where we were standing. I was examining some of the textures and enjoying the warmth of my own volcanic sauna.

After we mapped the boundaries of the seep, we measured the thickness of the seep itself. I was holding the base of the tape measure and recording the data.

The helicopter met us after a few hours and flew us over Pu`u O`o for a look at the current eruption. For those of you waiting anxiously for the smoking cone, here you go!

Of course, this doesn’t provide a good perspective of how large Pu`u O`o really is. That’s why I’m including this image as well.

Those very small, silver dots near the rim in the foreground? Those are our measurement stations. They’re about the size of an average adult. Yes, Pu`u O`o is large. Flying over it was incredible.

I hope everyone is having a wonderfully restful long weekend!


Hot enough for you?

19 07 2008

The ocean entry was spectacular on Tuesday. It’s the terminus of a series of lava tubes that issue from Pu`u O`o, a parasitic eruption site on Kilauea’s flank. The ocean entry had dried up completely for a while after the lava fountain from one of my earlier posts began, but it’s back and better than ever. Instead of just oozing into the ocean or producing small explosions, the lava was shooting between 40-50 feet in the air. I saw 3 flashes of lightning in the plume while I was there. That’s a newly observed phenomenon that had just started the day. Like I said, spectacular. I’ll just shut up and let you see for yourself.

It was after 7PM when I arrived, but a full moon illuminated the plume and water quite a bit.

The plume was creating massive disturbances in the surrounding atmosphere. You can see a waterspout to the left of the plume. Genuinely amazing.

In that one the lava was reaching for the ocean as well as for the land. The entire time I was there the eruption was building a spatter rampart (a wall-like structure of ejected lava). Remember, the lava is 40-50 feet high in these photos.

So yes, all of you who were waiting on tenterhooks for actual lava…there you have it! I’ve never heard a group of entirely disparate people, young and old, all ooh and ahh like I did on Tuesday. Adults failed to disguise the outright wonder in their voices, and children decided to inform everyone else that this was much, much better than fireworks. I could’ve watched it forever. The earth doesn’t get any newer than this…or more beautiful.

The Upshot.

17 07 2008

The knee injury I sustained on the `Ainapo Trail last week was not improving at all. Last night after walking a few miles to view the point where the lava flows meet the ocean, I was ready to just give up and get some crutches or a wheelchair. Fortunately for me my boss wants me in top shape, so I was sent to the doctor today. After an hour’s drive into town and two hours of languishing in the urgent care waiting room, I had my exam. No ligaments are injured, and my x-ray was normal. After palpating my knee and performing a few manual tests, the doctor diagnosed it as hemarthrosis. Delightful!

Essentially, my knee joint has a blood clot inside. Gross, right? The good news is that it will heal relatively quickly with rest. Obviously, this whole “rest” concept is a bit foreign to the HVO staff. I pleaded and wheedled and managed to persuade the doc to allow me up to three miles of hiking per day for the next ten days. That is me on medical rest, folks. I was prescribed a marvellous knee brace that turned me from a pathetically hobbling gimp into a nearly-normal, upright human. Painkillers and anti-inflammatories are also wonderful. Ahh.

Pictures of the amazing ocean entry explosions tomorrow. I shot over a hundred (an obscenely high number for me…I’m conservative with my pictures), so going through them will take some time. I’m house/dogsitting for the next 5 nights, so I should get the new pics sorted fairly quickly.

Damage Report!

12 07 2008

I have returned safely from my `Ainapo Trail survey, and it is not an exaggeration to say that I am beat. Literally. It looks like I was in a fight. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. The bottoms of both of my feet are covered in blisters. Each heel is covered by a blister. All of the available bottom surface of both big toes is consumed by blister. Several smaller toes are in on the action, and I have a few random blisters on the balls of both feet as well as sporadic, small blisters elsewhere. It is thoroughly disgusting and incredibly painful.

In addition to the blister invasion, I can’t really move my lower body. My pack weighed 43lbs, and when I was carrying the kGPS the weight totalled 61lbs. For reference, I weigh 130lbs with clothes on. If you are not a fan of math, that translates to about 47% of my body weight. As a result, I slipped and fell on a few occasions. Yesterday morning I managed a stunning kneeplant into some a`a lava, which as you hopefully recall is the pointy, unforgiving kind. Half of my left knee is swollen, all of it is bruised, and there are a few bloody spots to be found. My wounded knee (haha) decided to rebel early this morning and consequently made the rest of our epic journey fairly unpleasant. Walking on a normal surface would’ve been a challenge, and the windward side of Mauna Loa is anything but normal.

I am also the proud owner of eleven new bruises (that I can find without assistance), assorted scratches, and a plethora of achey body parts.

I love my life. Seriously.

Since I’m too pathetically sore to stand up and procure my camera from the foot of my bed, pictures and a description of the survey will have to wait. Also, there’s a small piece of basalt in my eye. This ought to annoy me, but how many people complain about lava chips from Mauna Loa invading personal eye space? I am going to appreciate this chip! Ok, I’m going to appreciate it for about 30 seconds and then get it out.

Here’s a video of the brand new eruption near Pu`u O`o to tide all of you over until I can write more.

The helicopter they were using to shoot the video? That’s the one I’ve ridden in twice now. I do the same sort of thing, except minus the video camera and over Mauna Loa instead. I’m hoping to get out to the active eruption site in the helo next week. Time to go nurse my battle wounds!