Photo Essay: Land, Lava, People

by |November 24, 2015

On Hawaii, lava is a way of life. The whole island is made of the stuff. Eruptions from Kilauea volcano have been adding new land and wiping out old for all of human time, and far before. In recent decades, lava flows have wiped out communities and major roads. The latest eruption, which began in June 2014, now threatens the small town of Pahoa. Most residents see the volcanism as something to accept, and adapt to. For scientists, it is a prime chance to study the causes of eruptions, the physics of lava flows, and how modern society can best cope. (All photos by Kevin Krajick) READ THE FULL SCIENTIFIC STORY or SEE A VIDEO

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Flows can travel rapidly for long distances via peculiar tunnels called lava tubes. Here, a dormant example in the national park is a popular tourist haunt. A tube usually starts as a trough on the flow’s surface. As hot liquid runs through, material splashes up and hardens to form banks, higher and higher—then eventually, a ceiling. Thus insulated from heat loss, lava can rush through like a river. When the eruption stops, the river dries up, but the tunnel remains.

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