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Science & Technology

From Kilauea To The Ring Of Fire: What You Need To Know About Volcanoes

People play golf as an ash plume rises in the distance from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island on May 15, 2018.
People play golf as an ash plume rises in the distance from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island on May 15, 2018.

With guest host John Donvan.

Lava from the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii has claimed “dozens of structures and destroyed scores of acres.”

The threat from the volcano goes beyond lava. Ash and gas in the air, and the steam created when lava touches water can spread for miles and be harmful to anyone who breathes it in.

Watch Kilauea erupt live with a stream from the Honolulu Civil Beat:

The Kilauea activity has raised questions about dangers outside of Hawaii. Experts say a great tsunami or eruptions in other volcanoes are rare side-effects. They also say this isn’t related to the Ring of Fire, a geologic formation along Pacific coastlines that contains hundreds of volcanoes and hosts frequent earthquakes. Though the ring encircles the Pacific, Hawaii is not technically part of it.

That said, the volcanic or tectonic activity along the ring remains a risk, as described in Kathryn Schulz’s Pulitzer-winning piece, “The Really Big One”:

The Ring of Fire, it turns out, is really a ring of subduction zones. Nearly all the earthquakes in the region are caused by continental plates getting stuck on oceanic plates—as North America is stuck on Juan de Fuca—and then getting abruptly unstuck. And nearly all the volcanoes are caused by the oceanic plates sliding deep beneath the continental ones, eventually reaching temperatures and pressures so extreme that they melt the rock above them.

Hawaii is not the only place that has volcanic activity in the United States. The United States Geologic Survey counts 169 potentially active volcanoes from Hawaii to Wyoming. And as [ New York Times] reporter Alan Blinder points out, “it is not unheard-of for a new one to appear completely by surprise.”

How can we prepare for unpredictable appearances or surprise eruptions? Can they be predicted? What should you do if you live near a volcano?

We’ll pick up where Ms. Frizzle left off and update you on everything you might be curious about regarding volcanoes.


Charles Mandeville, Program coordinator, US Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program; @USGS

Celia Taylor, Manager of the preparedness division, Pierce County (Washington) Emergency Management

Weston Thelen, Research seismologist, Cascade Volcano Observatory in Washington state; @thelenwes

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

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