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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park reopens with limited access

Posted at 4:51 AM, May 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-07 04:51:00-04

(RNN) – For most folks, Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano is an interesting curiosity.

The mountain belching out massive amounts of smoke, ash and lava is interesting, but from a distance it doesn’t seem like much of threat.

Government scientists don’t see it that way. They’re keeping a close eye on Kilauea.

“Kilauea emits between 500 and 10,000 metric tons of noxious sulfur dioxide gas (SO2) daily, during periods of sustained eruption,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Sulfur dioxide is nothing you want to be around. It smells bad for one thing, like the smell of match right after it's been lit.

“SO2 emissions can cause acid rain and air pollution downwind of a volcano—at Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, high concentrations of sulfur dioxide produce volcanic smog (VOG) causing persistent health problems for downwind populations,” the USGS said.

Sulfuric acid is used in car batteries. It’s what helps them keep their charge.

Sulfur dioxide gas is an irritant to lungs and nasal passages when inhaled and can be deadly to humans and animals in high enough concentrations. It can cause chemical burns when it mixes directly with moisture on the leaves of plants.

At ground level, pockets of SO2 can form or dissipate quickly depending on the wind and terrain. Hawaii has nine monitoring locations around Kilauea.

But volcanic gases aren’t just a problem for Hawaii, they can affect climate on a global scale.

In addition to creating acid rain, sulfur dioxide can mix with other gases to cause haze and in extreme cases, climate cooling.

NASA satellite maps have detected plumes of sulfur dioxide hundreds of miles from Kilauea.

The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 was one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century and injected a 20-million-ton sulfur dioxide cloud into the stratosphere.

It “cooled the Earth's surface for three years following the eruption, by as much as 1.3 degrees F at the height of the impact,” according to the USGS.

Because the impact of a volcano can be so widespread, scientists will be keeping a close eye on it not only for the locals but for how it impacts the rest of the world.

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