When Kilauea’s Lava Decimated Hawaii, This Is How It Impacted The Island’s Biggest Freshwater Lake

It was 10:00 a.m. on June 2, 2018. Reports were coming in that the lava flowing from Hawaii’s latest major volcanic eruption had reached the shore of Green Lake. Green Lake had itself been formed some 400 years previously by volcanic activity. But what impact would this latest eruption have on the lake? Only time would tell.

Green Lake, called Ka Wai o Pele in the Hawaiian language, was formed sometime in the early 17th century. It appeared in a volcanic crater called Kapoho, which was left by the eruption of Green Mountain, and at its deepest, it was filled by 200 feet of water.

It was the largest freshwater lake on all of Hawaii – in fact there is only one other freshwater body of water, Lake Waiau, which, at its deepest, is only a little over eight feet. Lake Waiau is also quite different from Green Lake in its surroundings.

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While Lake Waiau has a stark setting of volcanic rock with just a few grasses growing around it, before the latest volcano, Green Lake was surrounded by lush green vegetation. The flora around Green Lake included guava and banana trees as well as kukui nut trees, which on the Hawaiian island of Maui are symbols of peace and protection. Would they protect Green Lake?

And there’s mythology about Green Lake itself. It’s said to be the first location paid a visit by the goddess Pele. Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and also wind, fire and lightning. She’s said to live in the Kilauea crater and one of her alternate names is Ka wahine ?ai honua. Ominously, that can be translated as “the earth-eating woman.”

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And the fact that this Hawaiian goddess is said to live in the Kilauea crater probably means that this year she’s been really mad about something. Because that is the very crater from which the volcanic eruptions that have devastated parts of Hawaii during 2018 have originated.

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The signs that Kilauea might be on the brink of blowing came on May 3, 2018. Early on that day, an earthquake measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale rocked the island. Immediately after that, fissures opened around the Kilauea crater and molten lava began to pour from them.

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And the authorities on Hawaii were concerned enough to mobilize the island’s National Guard to help with evacuation of people from the danger area. By May 6, 26 homes that had been in the path of the lava flow had been destroyed on the Leilani Estates. Terrifying explosions were blasting 300-feet plumes of red-hot lava into the air.

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This was by no means the first time that Kilauea had threatened the lives and properties of Hawaiians. Some of Hawaii’s senior citizens can still recall the last major eruption of Kilauea in 1926. In May of that year, an eruption from Kilauea’s Halema?uma?u Crater blasted 99-pound lumps of stone nearly 200 feet into the air. A column of volcanic ash and debris climbed six miles into the atmosphere.

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Obviously, contemporary Hawaiians were a whole lot more concerned about what was happening with Kilauea in 2018 than in the distant past. And things weren’t looking good as the month of May unfolded. On May 16, the official count of cracks from which lava was flowing had risen to 20, and by the next day, another blast from Kilauea sent a volcanic ash cloud to an altitude of 30,000 feet.

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By now, lava had flowed all the way from its source at Kilauea through the Malama-Ki Forest Reserve, across a major highway and relentlessly on to the Pacific Ocean. As it hit the water, the molten lava sent up scalding clouds of steam and solidified, forming new sections of coast.

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Until now, most of the lava flows had been heading in a more or less easterly direction. But now the volcanic activity at Kilauea began to spill lava into a stream flowing towards the west. The latest damage reports show that 86 homes had now been destroyed, and by May 28, lava had now blanketed no less than 2,223 acres of land.

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Then on Saturday, June 2, at 10 a.m., lava had crossed the rim of the Kapoho Crater, which was the location of Green Lake. Quickly, the lava began to pour into the lake’s waters, immediately producing copious clouds of steam as the intense heat of the molten rock boiled the water.

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About 1:30 p.m., steam had stopped appearing above the lake. And at 3:00 p.m., an aircraft from the Hawaii County Fire Department flew overhead. The crew reported that just five hours after the lava had reached the banks of the lake, it was all over for Green Lake. Not only had the lava’s heat caused all of the water to evaporate, it had also filled the hollow that the lake had formerly occupied.

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This event may well have left Hawaiians aghast. The lake had been a well-known spot, popular with both locals and tourists. Don’t forget that this was one of only two freshwater lakes on the entire island. Now there was only one, the previously mentioned Lake Waiau. And comparing the charms of that small lake with the idyllic Green Lake, the only surviving lake is clearly a poor substitute.

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Drew Kapp, a geography teacher at Hawaii Community College, surely spoke for many Hawaiians when he told CNN affiliate KHNL/KGMB, “I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never even heard of anything like that happening before.” And the disappearance of Green Lake was not the end of the ecological disaster that was blighting this corner of Hawaii.

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Because having ripped through the Kapoho Crater and eradicated Green Lake, the lava flow now made its way to Kapoho Bay, overlooking the Pacific. Many Hawaiians had homes around this area, and there was absolutely nothing they could do to protect them from the 15-foot high wall of lava that now engulfed their residences.

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And the lava flowed inexorably to the sea and Kapoho Bay on the southeast coast of Hawaii. This had been an outstandingly beautiful piece of real estate, and now the lava completely filled in the bay. What had once been a popular destination for ocean swimmers and snorkelers was now covered by a sheet of blackened volcanic rock.

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So the destructive forces of the Kilauea volcano had utterly destroyed a beautiful lake and an idyllic seaside location in just a couple of days. Hawaiians could at this point have been forgiven for wondering if this nightmare would ever come to an end. But Kilauea, which had been highly active for an entire month by now, had not finished her destructive eruption yet.

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As the end of June approached, lava continued to flow from the volcano, although activity was somewhat curtailed by now. On June 24, the U.S. Geological Survey reported, “Collapse/explosion events that may produce ash plumes are expected to continue as long as subsidence is occurring at the volcano’s summit. At any time, activity could intensify producing more ash and higher ash plumes.” Dangerous times for the Hawaiian islanders continue.

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