Hawaiian volcano ‘smiles’ as lava reaches the ocean

Posted at 2:05 PM, Jul 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-29 14:05:18-04

That is one hot emoji!

The Big Island of Hawaii is getting a little bigger as lava from the Kilauea Volcano flows into the Pacific Ocean – and the volcano seems to be happy about it.

Aerial footage from Paradise Helicopters shows the volcano appear to form a giant smiley face as it pumps out lava for its journey to the sea.

The 6.5 mile-long lava flow has been dribbling down the south flank of Kilauea since May, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. It reached the ocean on Tuesday morning.

The USGS said the flow is about 20 meters (66 feet) wide where it spills over the cliff into the sea.

The red-hot lava creates huge plumes of steam as it hits the water and begins cooling into rock, delighting locals and eager tourists.

Kanoa Jones has a full-time job as a mechanic and welder, but has taken a leave of absence to run lava boat tours.

He’s gotten a permit for his company and has been captaining his brother’s boat, while he puts the finishing touches on his own vessel.

“There’s been people calling for a month now, trying to get in the boat,” Jones said. He plans to start doing sunrise and sunset tours on Monday.

Most days, Jones said, you could probably sail right up to the lava, but he keeps a safe distance.

“Sometimes, if the lava’s flowing heavy when it hits the water it could explode, but usually it’s really mellow,” he said adding that you can still feel the heat on the boat.

David Ford rode near the lava flow in a different boat and said he could smell sulfur and hear a sizzle when the lava hit the water.

“I have never seen an ocean entry from the ocean, and it was really cool to see from that angle, lower than a helicopter, and no cliff in the way as would happen if viewing from land,” Ford said.

You can get closer to the flow if you’re willing to endure a tough hike.

The USGS warns that getting too close can be extremely dangerous, and even deadly. The agency has released a pamphlet listing the risks from collapsing ledges, acid fumes, steam vents that can toss rocks and jets of hot lava — not to mention the risk of heat stroke, sprained ankles and other injuries on the hike.

Kilauea has been active since 1983, but this is the first time in three years that lava has reached the ocean.

In June 2014, lava threatened the village of Pahoa, forcing residents to evacuate and destroying at least one home.

There is no immediate threat to nearby communities.