The Earth may be humanity's only permanent home in the universe but, at times, the quiet blue marble feels frighteningly unsettled. Volcanoes and earthquakes show that the planet is, indeed, always changing both because of human activity but also in spite of it.
"We live on a planet that is still under construction," Donna O'Meara writes, "very day about 50 volcanoes erupt on Earth, adding to the planets topography. Kîlauea volcano is the most active of all of Earth's 1,500 known volcanoes, with over 80 eruptions in the past 200 years."
The Kilauea is famous for it syrupy lava called pahoehoe, seen here.
Here, O'Meara says, a roaring volcanic cloud of steam forms as hot lava pours into the sea. It spins off volcanic cyclones.
The Kilauea volcano is still expanding. On August 3, 2011 the newest lava flow burst forth and is seen here flowing towards the sea.
"Volcanoes remind us that we are living on a dynamic planet," O'Meara says, "a young world that is still forming under our feet each day. Kîlauea is just one jewel in the necklace of more than 1,000 volcanoes that form the Pacific Ring of Fire."
The Kilauea volcano was not always as active as it is today. "On January 3, 1983, lava began erupting from Kîlauea's East Rift Zone," O'Meara explains, "this eruption, the latest in a long string of historical events, has now surpassed 25 years of continual activity. Much has been written about the exciting early phases of this eruption, but little has been published since, mainly because most of the activity remained largely centered around the East Rift Zone and was of a gentle nature."
"Everything changed on March 18, 2008," however, "when Kîlauea astounded even veteran volcano watchers with a sequence of spectacular explosive summit eruptions—the first since 1924, when Kîlauea's summit crater, named Halema`uma`u (meaning, "home of the amaumau fern,") exploded violently."
A new phase of activity, O'Meara explains, should not have come as a surprise. "The Big Island of Hawaii`i is the youngest Hawaiian island," she says, "it sits above the hot spot, which now only feeds five of its six volcanoes: Kohala, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Hualâlai, Kîlauea, and a new submarine volcano named Lô`ihi."
"Kohala, in the north of Hawaii`i, is extinct," she continues, "meaning it is not expected to erupt again. It may take 100,000 years for little Lô`ihi to break the ocean's surface as the newest Big Island volcano. Hualâlai, Mauna Kea, and Mauna Loa are dormant right now, but they could erupt in the future. Kilauea is currently erupting."
It is part of the ongoing process that created the Hawaiian islands—and will continue to add new islands to the chain.
"The Pacific plate is inching its way to the northwest each year," O'Meara explains, "as a result, Kîlauea will eventually lose its position over the fixed hot spot. As the Big Island of Hawaii`i slides away, new volcanic islands will form in the Hawaiian chain."
Donna met Stephen James O'Meara in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but for their second date they flew to erupting Kilauea volcano. It was here that Donna photographed her first lava in a 700 foot wide bubbling lava lake and fell in love with volcanoes.
In 1987 Donna and Stephen James were married on the erupting slopes of Kilauea volcano. They wore tennis shoes in case they had to run. From that moment forward both their lives were dedicated to photographing and learning about volcanic eruptions.
Their research continues today through photography and their work with Volcano Watch International, the National Geographic Society, and the Smithsonian Institution.