The Smiling Volcano

Lava flow from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano forms a happy grin.

It’s not often that Mother Nature cracks a smile.

As lava from one of the world’s most active volcanos flowed into the Pacific Ocean, it formed a giant “smiley face”.

The video was taken by Paradise Helicopters as they flew along the south-eastern side of the Big Island of Hawaii.

Kilauea, formed from an intraplate hot spot, is the most studied volcano in the world. It emerged from the sea more than 50,000 years ago, and it has been active ever since.

Composed mostly of lava flows, Kilauea also has some deposits from explosive eruptions. It has erupted from three main areas: its summit and two rift zones.

[Image: USGS]

Most of Kilauea's eruptions are relatively gentle lava flows. Lava fountains often shoot the molten magma high in the air before it flows down the mountain's slopes. A spectacular lava fountain during a 1959 eruption from the Kilauea Iki vent soared 580 metres, a record for a Hawaiian eruption.

Infrequently – every few decades or centuries – powerful eruptions send volcanic debris across the area.

Kilauea's constant lava eruptions have built up the volcano and given it a shield-like form that is still growing. Currently, the shield is about 80 kilometres long and 24 kilometres wide.

The current eruption began in 1983 and has been continuous ever since. It is the most long-lived eruption in documented times.

In the future, scientists say, Kilauea will continue its pattern. Sporadic explosions will cause some destruction, but for the most part the volcano will continue to "drool."

Eruptions will fill the caldera and heighten the summit – constantly renovating and adding on to the legendary ancient home of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess.

Header image: Paradise Helicopters

Discuss this article

Newsletter

Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
Submit