WATCH: New Hawaii coastline formed as volcano's lava flows into ocean

2018-06-08 08:35
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Lava from the Kilauea volcano that flowed into Kapoho Bay has created nearly a mile (1.6 kilometres) of new land.

Officials with the US Geological Survey said on Thursday, 7 June, the flow is still very active and there's no way to know when the eruption will end or if more lava-spewing vents will open.

The fast-moving lava poured into the low-laying coastal Hawaii neighbourhoods in just two days this week, destroying hundreds of homes.

SEE: WATCH: Hawaii's volcano lava continues path of destruction burning hundreds of homes

"Lava continues to enter the ocean along a broad front in Kapoho Bay and the Vacationland area and it continues to creep north of what remains of Kapoho Beach Lots," says USGS geologist Janet Babb.

As the lava marched toward the bay, it vapourised Hawaii's largest freshwater lake, which was hundreds of feet deep in some places. The new land in Kapoho Bay is now owned by the state, but the peninsula won't look like the farmland that dominates that region of the Big Island anytime soon.

Depending on climate, rainfall and other variables, new vegetation could start growing soon, but it would take much longer for the fertile land and lush rainforests to build back up.

"How soon vegetation comes back on a lava flow really depends on the type of lava it is, and how much rainfall there is in the area," says Babb. "There are flows on the Kona side of the island that are much older than some flows on east Hawaii, they are much older but they have far less vegetation and that's just a reflection of the difference in rainfall."

Hawaii's volcano lava creates new coastline

A lava delta filling the former Kapoho Bay at the town of Kapoho on the island of Hawaii. While the delta margin nearest the ocean has cooled somewhat, the lava flow front is still very hot and producing laze (lava haze). Laze is a local hazard composed of acidic gases and volcanic glass fragments and should be avoided. (Photo: US Geological Survey via AP)

A small ohia tree was observed by a National Park Service employee during of a tour of a two-year-old inactive flow in Kalapana last week.

"Rainfall really makes a difference," says Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane. "A lot of ferns will pop up first. So, it's usually ohia and ferns that are the first pioneers of those new lava flows."

But the land is still highly unpredictable, and once the lava cools and hardens it will leave behind a jagged, scorched landscape with razor-sharp shards of volcanic rock.

Hawaii's volcano lava creates new coastline

Most of the Kapoho area is now covered in fresh lava as the Kilauea Volcano lower east rift zone eruption continues. (Photo: AP /LE Baskow)

Any new land masses that are formed by lava within the national park become federal land and any ocean entries outside the park becomes state land.

"A lot of the ocean entries are extraordinarily unstable," Ferracane says. "The bench that was formed during 2016 and 2017 61G flow has already collapsed and fallen into the ocean, so nobody really owns that any longer."

Hawaii's volcano lava creates new coastline

Most of the Kapoho area including the tide pools is now covered in fresh lava with few properties still intact. (Photo: AP /LE Baskow)

The lava, which has covered more than 2023.47 hectares in this latest eruption is not only expansive, but very thick. Scientists say that while the height of the lava is variable depending on the source and local topography, much of the area is covered in 3 to 6 metres of lava.

People that have private property in the affected areas will still own their land, though it will need to be reassessed once the lava stops flowing.

ALSO SEE: WATCH: Hawaii lava flows are hottest and fastest in latest eruption

There are homes still standing in several subdivisions that have been inundated by lava, but many homeowners are unable to get back to those properties because the lava has already cut them off.

There are no homes left in the Vacationland subdivision and neighbouring Kapoho has only a few homes left standing. They too are cut off and inaccessible.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim says lava has destroyed more than 600 homes since early last month.

Hawaii's volcano lava creates new coastline

Kilauea's lower East Rift Zone, showing continued fountaining of a fissure and the lava flow channel fed by it near the town of Kapoho on the island of Hawaii. (Photo: US Geological Survey via AP)