Hawaii’s erupting volcano is still going, and now it’s a threat to passing planes too

A huge cloud of ash rising from the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii yesterday alerted the pilots who planned to fly over the area. The eruption is not just more dangerous for people on the ground, it could also shoot down planes.

Kilauea has been spilling lava, molten rock and poisonous gases from multiple massive fissures on the island of Hawaii since May 3. On Tuesday morning, the Halema crater on the Kilauea summit also began to flash continuously, creating a feather that rose to 10,000 feet in the air. The rocks that fall into the vent may be responsible for the more intense ash jets. But that's not even the worst, the US Geological Survey. UU He warned: "At any time, the activity may become more explosive, increase the intensity of ash production and produce ballistic projectiles near the vent"

So the Hawaii Volcanic Observatory warned pilots about the giant ash plume by changing the color code from aviation to red, which means that a dangerous eruption is occurring for air travel or it could happen soon. This morning, local time, the Hawaiian Volcanic Observatory announced that the color code would remain red for the time being. "It sounds a bit alarming," USGS vulcanologist Michelle Coombs said in a video statement. But the "red code" is just a warning for aviators flying around the island. "It does not mean that a really big rash is imminent," she says. "It's really about characterizing the aviation situation."

Volcanic ash is an airborne mixture of crushed rocks, glass and gases that can clog an airplane's speedometer, kill the engine and squeeze windows, which affects visibility. In the 1980s, several aircraft almost crashed when their engines died after flying through the ash clouds.

Currently, volcano observatories and volcanic ash advisory centers around the world issue color-coded warnings for the aviation industry. Warnings range from green, which means that a volcano is not erupting, to red, which means it is erupting or could be soon. These notices are not orders: in the USA. UU., The Federal Aviation Administration is in charge of telling pilots what to do. "We simply say that here is the threat: here is the ash, this is where it is, that's how it's being distributed," says vulcanologist Kristi Wallace.

No one at the Hawaii Volcanic Observatory was available to speak on the phone before the publication of this article. But Wallace, who works with the Alaska Volcano Observatory, says that all volcano observatories across the country are increasing. "The observatories in the United States are all under the same figurative roof, we are all one agency," she says. .

Ash from the column of Kilauea falling on the desert of Ka`u on May 15, 2018.
Photo: USGS [19659012] USGS volcano observatories call for changing the color code by monitoring the eruption, using satellite images from the National Weather Service, data collected by earthquake sensors and images of the volcano from webcams . "We are using webcam information to estimate ash cloud heights, we have instruments that detect ash concentrations," says Wallace. But the height of the cloud is more important than the amount of ash in it, he adds. "If we think that a cloud of ash crosses with the flight levels, then it is an immediate color code of red color".

Volcanic eruptions that produce massive ash clouds are more common in Alaska, where Wallace works, than in Hawaii. In Hawaii, says Wallace, the magma is so close to the volcano that it does not generate as much pressure at the moment it leaves, producing less explosive eruptions. In general, that means less ash, but explosive ash explosions occur for example, when the rocks fall into a vent.

"The big question is, will it continue?" He says. If the crater calms down, the warning could degrade to "orange". That means the rash is near or running, but it is not like that. It is likely to produce a lot of ash. Still, as we saw yesterday, "orange" can quickly go back to "red." "Here is a new and dynamic situation," says Wallace.

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