Witnessing Creation

July 10, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Recently, a chance was given to me to observe the Earth creating new land. What a thrilling and magnificent spectacle to witness! I was unequivocally hooked, and found myself wishing we could set down. As exciting as the tour was, viewing lava flows from a helicopter wasn’t enough, I wanted more. Taking shots at ground level must be an incredible thrill and is an experience I must have! Aside from being eye-level, which would be incredible, the absence of a chopper would allow for appreciation of it all; the heat, the sound, the smell and the rush of some danger in trying to get “the shot”. In a previous post, I mentioned I couldn’t wait to go back to shoot lava again. I decided that setting aside an “emergency fund” is a logical way to achieve that goal. An emergency fund will allow for booking travel on short notice and achieve my goal in capturing ocean entry lava when it starts again, which looks to be sooner than later. Who doesn’t like seeing photos of volcanoes and lava?! The current (May 24th) breakout is tantalizingly close to the ocean, just over a half mile, but the small coastal plain has a shallow grade and the terrain is quite rough. The flow is slowing according to HVO observations. The HVO reported the flow front had advanced 90 meters on 8 July, which is a huge difference from the previous pace. Earlier in the breakout the flow was averaging 400-500 meter advances per day. You never know what a lava stream will do, or what direction it will take. Here’s to hoping that lava continues its slow march to the ocean, and makes it there. I have heard that every time Chain of Craters road is rebuilt, Kilauea decides she likes her paving jobs better. If lava continues to the ocean, it will cross a newly reconstructed portion of the road, again. If there’s truth to that rumour about CoC Rd., I hope they keep rebuilding it. :-)

I’ve posted several landscapes from the trip, and will also post a lava shot per week. However, a couple shots I believe are finished I’m going to preview in this blog post. Publishing the larger full-res versions to the gallery and 500px will come later, but I like to sit on shots for a bit to make sure I’m satisfied with the final image. These photos may not end up posted anywhere else or these photos may have some final changes made before posting.

This first image, taken toward the end of our visit at the flow field, shows the incredibly rugged terrain.  The location is approximately a mile from Pu’u O’o crater and the surrounding landscape is just, surreal.

I cannot help myself if reminded of something one might see in Lord of the Rings involving Mordor. If you are like me and have ever wondered how early, primordial, pre-life Earth appeared, this landscape cannot be much different. The skylight you see in the foreground of the image revealed a river of lava a good 20 feet below. The river was flowing at least 20MPH, perhaps even 30MPH; certainly the same speed you would expect to see a car  traveling on a residential side-street. There also appeared to be a massive underground cavern. This cavern gave an impression there is an extensive lava tube network and this particular river runs deep and swift. I could scarcely believe I was witnessing this incredible scene with my own eyes. As I scanned my view for more potential photos I could not help but notice a massive lava tube northeast of the skylight (upper-right corner of the image). To give you an idea of scale, the defunct lava tube is easily spacious enough to drive a Cooper Mini inside. Assuming you desired, you could walk inside without having to duck, but that might be the least of your worries in this terrain. This scene caused me to think about what a dangerous proposition it would be to walk around out there. You just don’t know what you’re stepping on, what might give way, what spots are safe, or which step could be your last. Sitting here in my comfy chair, writing this blog, the danger seems daunting; but then, being there in that moment, with a chance to capture something amazing could completely change things.

Next up, we have a more wide-angle shot looking roughly straight down on a flow field that appears to be relatively recent. Hard to say how recent from a photo, but certainly not from this breakout. The lava rock is covered in sulfur and perhaps another element or two that has vented from hot rock or magma underneath. I am not a geologist, however, if I had to guess my guess would be that this field has cooled slowly. Sulfuric gasses (and other gasses?) built up pressure, and then vented out through cracks. There is probably no flowing lava underneath,  unless there is a discreet tube. This photo isn’t especially exciting, but intrigues me. If you study this image, you can follow how lava behaved as it moved down-slope; you can begin to understand how magma changed directions, popped out here, and built up there. It is fascinating to me. Visible massive cracks are signs of lava building up underneath, and lifting the surface as pressure mounted. I have to wonder if rock racking would make any sound or not (in this situation). Does it happen so slowly that there’s no perceptible noise or is  it sudden and startling, like pyrotechnics, as new rock succumbs to escalating pressure? Some of the cracks are likely from rock settling as pressure subsided. The yellow deposits are sulfur, but the white residue is a bit mysterious. Perhaps it is a salt of some sort. Perhaps, it’s due to rain water mixing with sulfur, forming sulphuric acid, and then reacting with the rock surface. I’m more partial to the latter theory. How unfortunate a job in geologic sciences typically doesn’t pay that well; seems like it would be fascinating work. If you look at the photo a little more abstractly, I find it sort of resembles what you might see in a massive roiling river — water rushing through huge rapids, but in this case, frozen in time.

In this last shot, you’ll see an active flow that looks more like molten metal than it does rock. I’m not sure why this particular stream of lava took on a more silvery appearance., but it would be really interesting to understand what forces are at work. Regardless, it makes for some incredible contrast. Looking at it I think I may have played up the contrast too much; I may still need to perform minor adjustments. :-)

Once lava starts making ocean entry or something else equally or more dramatic occurs, I’ll be going back. I could easily see myself spending an entire day out on the coast, shooting lava making contact with water. I’ll be sure to bring plenty of batteries, memory cards, water, and protein bars. :-) I’m looking forward to it.






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