From: Jaymes Song, Associated Press
Published June 21, 2007 12:00 AM

Third Crack Found in Forested Area on Hawaii's Kilauea, Threatening Rare Plants and Species

HONOLULU -- A third large crack has formed on Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, park officials said Wednesday. A forest area that is home to rare plants and species could be in danger.

The fissure, spotted in an area a few miles southeast of Kilauea's summit, is near two others discovered since hundreds of small earthquakes were recorded in the area Sunday, suggesting magma, or underground lava, was shifting beneath the surface.

The fissure was spewing steam, but was not oozing lava like the others did. Heat from the fissures could spark a fire, scientists said.

"There's just smoldering, there's no open flames or anything like that," Jim Gale, a spokesman for the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, said of the most recent fissure found. "We're very fortunate because we just had a series of rains so the area is relatively wet."

The area is home to honeycreeper birds, happy face spiders and damselflies. There are also native trees and ferns found nowhere else in the state.

"This is a real vital part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It's a vital habitat," Gale said.

Officials were considering setting up water pools in the area to help extinguish possible fires.

Scientists also detected hazardous sulfur dioxide concentrations greater than 10 parts-per-million near Kilauea's summit, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory. The levels would be toxic to humans, but the public generally isn't allowed near the summit.

The earthquakes seem to have slowed since Tuesday with fewer than 10 small earthquakes per hour being recorded in the upper east rift zone, where the fissures have appeared, officials said.

On Tuesday, a small outbreak of lava oozed about 150 feet from a 600-foot-long fissure. The lava was cooling and not advancing, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Areas of the park, including the popular Pu'u 'O'o Trail, were closed as safety precautions.

Kilauea has been erupting continuously since Jan. 3, 1983, sending lava from the Pu'u 'O'o cone through a system of tubes to the ocean, where it forms new land over time.


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