Last year, Kilauea, a volcano that helped create the Hawaiian islands, began erupting. Scientists called the devastation "unprecedented," and as the eruption lasted from May through September, became the worst volcanic eruption the United States has faced since Mount St. Helens. Now, the U.S. Geologic Survey is taking a look at the volcano's impact. It's found that Kilauea expanded Hawaii by around 875 acres.
Volcanoes are different than most natural disasters. While they can be just as destructive as a hurricane or an earthquake, hot molten lava eventually cools into something extraordinarily useful: . Communities ranging from Hawaii to Italy have relied on the mineral-heavy soil that eventually comes from a volcanic explosion.
That's not to say Kilauea's eruption was welcomed by residents—it destroyed , including the home of Big Island, and millions of dollars of damage. But the volcano has reshaped Big Island, and the USGS is in the earliest stages of figuring out how.
Twenty-four fissures of lava are responsible for the new acreage, , and they are buried within one approximately 13.7 square mile area. The fissures aren't uniform and diverge in terms of thickness. The thickest lava comes from the most active fissure, identified as Fissure 8, and comes in at 167 feet thick.
Additionally, the lava also buried nearly 14 square miles (36 square kilometers) of existing land.
The research on the lava flow began nearly as soon as the eruptions started, mostly through unmanned drones and helicopters. However, at times conditions proved inaccessible. Sometimes the land was too remote for a drone, and sometimes helicopters couldn't break through toxic laze plumes. Laze plumes occur when lava meets salty sea water and sends up clouds of hydrochloric acid and steam embedded with fine glass particles.
But they've thankfully subsided, and now scientists are getting their chance to begun analysis of the cooled lava.
"We'll be studying this eruption for years," says Janet Babb, a geologist with the USGS, . "There (are) a lot of studies still going on."
The USGS hopes to have a final map of the lava's thickness by next year.