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3/17/2008

New volcanic vent spewing toxic gas

COURTESY HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY

Views of the east wall of Halemaumau crater show the emergence of a new gas vent on Monday and Thursday. The Halemaumau crater overlook is circled. Note the large gas plume in the right frame taken on Thursday.

Hawaii, USA

New volcanic vent spewing toxic gas - Fumes might force park to close. Sulfur dioxide gas from Kilauea volcano on Thursday reached THE HIGHEST LEVEL EVER RECORDED, leading officials to worry that all of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park might have to be closed if tradewinds are not strong enough blow the gas away. A plan is being prepared to evacuate all visitors and park employees in case the need arises. Gas from a new vent inside Halemaumau Crater helped boost output to 2,000 metric tons a day on Thursday. Typical emission rates of sulfur dioxide in the area last year were 150 to 200 metric tons per day. In December the figures started to rise. By mid-February, when the road was closed, the figures were 600 to 1,000 metric tons a day. On Wednesday the new vent raised the level to 1,500 metric tons per day. Thursday the measurement went to 2,000 metric tons per day, the highest ever recorded since measurements began there in 1979. That is well above the 1,200 metric tons spewed during the summit eruption of Kilauea in 1982. Sulfur dioxide levels are also high at Puu Oo, the former eruptive vent about 10 miles east of the summit, but there are no people in the immediate area to be disturbed by the gas. The cause of the increase in sulfur dioxide emissions is unclear. "While it is a remote possibility, a summit eruption is not expected because other harbingers of summit activity have not occurred. We continue to monitor for signs such as inflation and increased earthquake activity at Kilauea summit." This week, lava from the erupting Kilauea Volcano finally took the last livable structure in the tiny community of Kapaahu that was all but wiped out in 1986.
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