SDSM&T professor discusses science behind Hawaii volcanic eruptions

Published: May. 8, 2018 at 5:26 PM MDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Volcanic eruptions on Hawaii's big island are destroying dozens of homes and buildings. Black Hills FOX's Jon Wilson spoke with a geophysics professor at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology to learn some of the science behind this natural disaster.

SDSM&T Professor of Geophysics Tim Masterlark says, "This volcano has been erupting for decades. It's the intensity that has been changing. So since the 70s, there have been eruptions going on. There are some precursors to eruptions, but it's hard to tell. Sometimes we can get days, weeks, maybe as short as hours, but what we cannot do is predict out years ahead of time."

Video from the southeast side of the big island shows buildings and homes being swallowed up by hot lava flows. Living on the Hawaiian Islands comes with a risk, as the entire chain formed from volcanic eruptions. The cause of the geological feature is known as a hot spot.

Masterlark says, "What the hot spot does is it's a fertile location of magma, so magma is being produced, and this comes out in the form of volcanoes. So as the plate moves across the hot spot, a volcano is formed. So when you look at the chain of islands for Hawaii, that chain is evidence of the plate moving over the top of the hot spot."

There are dozens of these across the world, nestled hundreds of miles below the ground. The closest volcano to the Black Hills is in Yellowstone National Park.

Masterlark says, "They're very far apart, on a different plate, and for me to come out and say absolutely no connection would be disingenuous, but there's no known connection based on the physics as we understand of what goes on inside of the earth, there's no connection."