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WATCH: In Hawaii, A 'Firehose' Of Lava Pours Into The Ocean

An open lava stream pours out of the lava tube, perched high on the sea cliff, and into the ocean.
An open lava stream pours out of the lava tube, perched high on the sea cliff, and into the ocean.

Researchers in Hawaii have captured dramatic footage of a "firehose" of red-hot lava plummeting down a cliff into the Pacific Ocean, sending fragments of lava and clouds of gray smoke into the sky.

It's coming from the big island's Kilauea volcano, which has been erupting since January 1983.

On New Year's Day, about 21 acres of rock from the Komokuna lava delta collapsed. After that, "the exposed lava tube continued to feed a cascade of molten rock down the steep sea cliff," according to the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. That's what we're looking at now.

It goes without saying that a tube of red-hot lava is extremely dangerous. In the footage, the hot lava hitting cooler water continually explodes, sending off fragments of molten lava and volcanic glass in all directions. The USGS said last week that large bursts have sent the spatter "about twice the height of the sea cliff."

The lava stream has appeared to narrow in the past few days. National Park representatives have set up a viewing area for the stream of lava, where visitors can see it from a safe distance through binoculars or a telephoto lens.

Meanwhile, the researchers are concerned that the cliff itself continues to be unstable. They're noticing a widening crack, "making the site extremely dangerous for anyone who ventures too closely to the ocean entry by land or by sea." Researchers can actually hear grinding noises coming from the crack, and they're warning that it "could collapse at any time."

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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