Lava hits the ocean creating an explosion of molten basalt rocks and acidic steam plumes skyward. When hot lava boils and vaporizes cool sea water it blasts lava rock fragments every direction and creates a billowing cloud of laze 'lava haze' made up of a mixture of acidic seawater steam, hydrochloric acid, and tiny shards of volcanic glass.
This massive lava stream flowed from Kīlauea Volcano into the ocean at the Kamokuna sea cliff at sunrise on February 5th, 2017 in Kalapana, Hawaii. Kīlauea is one of the world's most active volcanoes and the current eruption that began in January 1983 has sustained continuous activity, sending millions of gallons of lava per day through lava tubes from the Pu`u `Ō `ō vent, on the Eastern Rift Zone, 5 miles towards the Pacific and forming the island.
Images by Elyse Butler, Andrew Richard Hara, and John Hook
Two unforgettable, and unforgiving, volcanic events captured the attention and imaginations of onlookers far and wide these past couple years: the lava stream that flowed into the ocean from the Kamokuna sea cliff at Kalapana in 2017 and the massive lava flows and fissures that ravaged the Puna district in 2018. Together they display the duality of lava, which destroys while she creates.
In their arresting and artful imagery of these twin occurrences, Hawai‘i photographers Elyse Butler, Andrew Richard Hara, and John Hook bring us as close to the source as possible. In the custom of oral history and to honor their portraits of Pele, their visual testimonies are paired with accounts of their experiences and how they themselves were left forever changed.
“It was surreal. Lava was spewing out, but it was still peaceful enough to hear the frogs and the wind through trees. You could just stare at the lava all day like a campfire. It really takes a moment of stepping back to realize how destructive and powerful it is, its hypnotic beauty.” – John Hook
“We arrived by boat just before daybreak. It was amazing. Even from far away, as we glided through the dark sea, you could see Pele’s orange glow pulsating into the water. As we got closer I could feel her energy, watching the island being created before my eyes. I was in total awe of the raw, beautiful power of Earth.” – Elyse Butler
“I was mesmerized by the massive lava stream flowing into the ocean. Heat from the lava stream radiated through my body and the smell of sulphur wafted through laze clouds. The air was filled with the thunderous sound of lava rocks exploding into the sea.” – Elyse Butler
“It was one of the only times I was fully engaged with all five senses. How high is the fire fountain and can you feel the tradewinds? Is your skin starting to burn from the acid in the atmosphere? Is the ground stable enough to hike over? Every sense is stimulated—the experience was out of body.” – Andrew Richard Hara
“The magnitude and force of the lava from this eruption redefined my understanding of how this island was built and grown. It puts in perspective how little beings can change nature’s course.
You have no influence over how a situation is going to turn out.” – Andrew Richard Hara
“You’re this tiny dot in front of this orange cone of hot lava and you feel really small. Very vulnerable. At the same time there’s this reverence to this larger, greater thing that can destroy you in seconds. I really felt like the lava was allowing me, in one way or another, to document it. I’m being allowed to be there, in front of an uncontrollable force.” – Andrew Richard Hara