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The Inertia

In Kīlauea’s Halema’uma’u crater, there’s a lake that you would not want to swim in. It’s full of lava, as craters in active volcanoes tend to be. The United States Geological Survey recently captured footage of something pretty spectacular on January 2-3: a massive dome fountain shooting lava almost 20 feet in the air.

You likely remember when, back in 2018, the Kīlauea volcano vomited vast torrents of lava all over Hawaii’s Big Island. The flows burned homes and buried bays, created poisonous steam, and released toxic gasses.

The volcano has been constantly erupting since 1983, but rarely does it erupt with enough violence to cause any real damage. In 2018, however, it flexed its muscles and destroyed anything that stood in its way for months on end.

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In December of 2020, another violent burst of energy in the volcano created a sprawling lava lake in the Halema’uma’u crater. It used to be a regular crater lake; a beautiful, deep well filled with eerily dark water, but after a fissure in the side wall of the crater opened up, lava flowed in and turned the water to steam. Now, it’s full of lava, nearly 650 feet deep, and it’s getting deeper every day.

“Lava from the western vent cascades beneath roofed vertical channels to enter the lava lake at an inlet that has become partially submerged,” wrote the USGS in the video description. “The result is a rolling upwelling of lava near the inlet called a ‘dome fountain.’”

Dome fountains aren’t anything new, as spectacular as they are. They’ve been observed during eruptions at Mauna Ulu and Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō. They occur when high-pressure lava blows out of a relatively small fissure, but despite the fact that we’ve seen them before, they’re still a part of nature that will never cease to be amazing.

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