The Big Island of Hawaii has become a ghost town because of the volcano, Kilauea. The volcano has been spewing lava for the past several weeks, resulting in several fissures opening up throughout the island. The lava has covered over 116 acres and has destroyed 36 structures. Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983.

1. These eruptions are being heavily monitored

Hawaii’s volcanoes are built up by a continuous flow of lava. These volcanoes are known as effusive versus explosive, meaning they don’t erupt like an uncontrolled fire hydrant.

The Hawaiian volcanoes are classified as “shield” volcanoes because of their sloping profile which has been built by a flow of lava.

Most volcanoes have become impossible to forecast but the slow-moving volcanoes in Hawaii are some of the easiest to study. The Hawaiian Volcanic Observatory uses a variety of instruments to monitor and predict Kilauea’s volcanic activity. They use Global Positioning Systems and other satellite-based technology to map ground deformations. These and other technology help track the lava movement underground and help map out where it might erupt through the surface.

2. Kilauea is not alone

The HVO has said that every inch of the Island of Hawaii was a lava flow at one time or another.

Five volcanoes created the island and only one is considered extinct. Mauna Kea is categorized as dormant because it has not erupted in the last 200 years; however, it still could in the future. The other volcanoes including Mauna Loa, Hualalai and Kilauea are all active.

3. They had warning signs

Kilauea’s activity was focused at two spots: the summit’s crater and at the PuuOo vent.

Scientists began to take notice at the end of April when the lava lake began to rise and spill into Halemumau. On April 30, the lake suddenly drained. Similar occurrences took place at PuuOo.

Just hours later seismometers began detecting hundreds of earthquakes heading towards neighborhoods causing Hawaii officials to organize evacuation centers.

Then on May 3, Hawaii was hit with a 5.0 earthquake which caused a small pink plume of ash to rise from PuuOo. At the end of the day, a 500-foot fissure opened up at the Leilani Estates, creating serious lava fountains and a massive evacuation of multiple subdivisions. Since the first fissure, 14 others have opened up and were spewing sulfur gas and lava.

4. It’s not just lava you have to worry about

Eruption temperatures can be as high as 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to destroy homes and forests.

Even if there is no lava headed towards your street, hazardous levels of sulfur dioxide gas can be present up to a half-mile away from the eruption epicenter. Then, you also have to face the threat of earthquakes.

In early May, following a massive number of strong earthquakes, a magnitude 6.9 quake struck the south side of Kilauea. The quake could be felt hundreds of miles away even those in Honolulu felt it. Along with earthquakes, you have to face the possibility of a deadly tsunami. Following these quakes, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center immediately sent out a statement saying that no tsunami was expected. However, some areas felt strong shaking.

5. There is such a thing as volcano preparedness

Based on the location of past eruption sites, past lava coverage and the current topography of the island, scientists and the US Geological Survey have built a map of Hawaii Island and ranked areas for the threat of lava hazards.

Interestingly enough, Leilani Estates sits right in the middle of an area of the highest threat and last experienced an eruption along its southern boundary in 1955. The volcano known as Kohala which sits on the northwest corner of the island has not erupted for 60,000 years and is located in an area considered to be the least hazardous region.

The map was made to help locals understand the threats they could face at any time and help them make a plan for evacuation before an emergency arises. The HVO shares daily public volcanic updates and the local government issues watches and warnings just like how communities issue flood, tornado, and hurricane warnings. They also recommend residents add a “respiratory mask and goggles” to their emergency preparedness kits, so they can work outside in the volcanic ash.

While these scientists and geologists have all this incredible technology to track and record what the volcano is doing, they still can’t explain what caused Kilauea’s change in activity or when it will stop. HVO continues to issue alerts and they recently said that there could possibly be explosive eruptions at the summit that could include ballistic projectiles weighing a few pounds to even a few tons.