HONOLULU — As the high-definition camera pans across the surface of an active Hawaii volcano’s viscous summit lava lake, a large bubble of volcanic gas grows and bursts, dramatically spewing molten rock into the air and sending a massive ripple of lava outward across the crater.
Federal officials released high-definition video of the lava lake atop Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano on Tuesday, providing a rare close-up glimpse of the powerful summit eruption, shot in stunning 4K ultra high definition video.
The U.S. Geological Survey footage shows lava breaking through the crusted mantle of the lava lake on the Big Island and splashing up the crater walls. Aerial footage shows lava glowing through the cracks of the slightly hardened crust atop the flowing and bubbling lava.
USGS video producer Stephen Wessells, geologist Janet Babb and other scientists worked along the edge of the volcano’s massive summit wearing gas masks and other protective gear to capture the images. At times, they were only a few hundred feet away from the lava lake.
“It was the greatest shooting experience of my life,” said Wessells, who has been producing video for USGS since 1990. “It was just spectacular.”
The summit eruption has been happening since March 2008, which is when federal officials closed the area to the public.
Babb told The Associated Press that the area is full of hazards. Gasses from the volcano, which can swirl around in the strong trade winds on the summit, “can be life-threatening,” said Babb. Additionally, “rocks from the vent wall will fall apart and fall into the lava lake and when they do there’s a big gas release, this big kind of bubble burst, and it will hurl fragments of molten lava … up onto the crater rim.”
The team was reminded of this danger when a filming location was covered in hot spatter just a week after they were there.
“It was a very sobering moment,” Babb said.
Kilauea has an extensive history of eruptions. While most of Kilauea’s activity has been nonexplosive, a 1924 eruption spewed ash and 10-ton rocks into the sky and left a man dead.
A vent adjacent to the summit known as Puu Oo recently erupted and sent lava trickling down the mountainside and into the Pacific Ocean for the first time in several years.
A 1983 Puu Oo eruption resulted in lava fountains soaring over 1,500 feet high. In the decades since, the lava flow has buried 48 square miles of land and destroyed many homes.
In 2008, after a series of small earthquakes rattled the island, Kilauea’s summit crater opened and gushed lava and rock over 75 acres of the mountain, damaging a nearby visitor overlook.
The video released Tuesday is the highest resolution footage the agency has ever captured of the lava lake, and will be included in a longer documentary about the history of the volcano around the 10th anniversary of the current eruption in 2018.
This story clarifies that video producer Stephen Wessells was not shown in the footage.