There are different kinds of disasters. The storms and/or microbursts and/or tornados that swept through this area recently, flattening trees and closing some schools for days, were bad enough. Last hurricane season, Puerto Rico and Texas were hit hard.
Then there were the wildfires last year that led to mudslides this past winter in California, where an earthquake that hasn’t happened yet is on everyone’s mind and even has a name: The Big One.
But the long-term, slow-motion calamity in Hawai’i is of a different ilk. Other catastrophes happen, then you clean up and rebuild. (Except in the case of Puerto Rico, parts of which are still without power, all these months later.)
The lava from Kilauea, though, just creeps along, not unlike in the movie “The Blob” (1958), in which Steve McQueen tries to fight the gelatinous red ooze that’s relentlessly ingesting his whole town.
In Hawai’i, though, the blob is red because it’s red-hot, inside its black crust. We’ve been watching it slither along, since May 3, at barely a walking pace, igniting and then swallowing houses and cars along the way.
There have been big explosions at Halema’uma’u crater, Kilauea’s summit, sending ash up to 7,000 feet, along with the creeping lava, which keeps “fountaining” out of a system of 22 fissures. And there’s the constant fear that a major explosion could send boulders the size of cows — or maybe of Buicks — showering down.
There’s “vog,” a fog that comes out of the craters and contains sulfur dioxide; and “laze,” the haze that’s generated when hot lava reacts with seawater, generating such toxic delights as glass particles and hydrochloric acid, with corrosive properties akin to battery acid.
Not satisfied with all that, I’ve dreamed up another volcanic menace to worry about: lava is molten rock, and rock is heavy, and Kilauea has been moving gobs of rock from down in the Earth’s crust up to the surface. That surface, as close as Hawai’i is to the equator, is moving at around 1,000 miles per hour.
Now, doesn’t that throw the planet’s balance off? I mean, if you randomly added some of those little lead weights they use to balance the wheels on your car, wouldn’t the wheels start to wobble?
And another thing: With Kilauea close to the equator, while we’re at 41.5 degrees north latitude — almost halfway to the North Pole — we must be moving a lot slower than the folks in Hawai’i. Think of a carousel: If you stand at the outside edge, you have to hang on because you’re moving so fast; move closer to the center and it’s easier to stand because you’re moving slower. Same with old Mother Earth, no?
And with so much less centrifugal force up here, doesn’t that make us heavier than Hawai’ians? This makes perfect sense, so I’m almost (but not quite) sure this is the scientific explanation for why I seem to be much heavier than the nubile, sun-kissed people you always see on the beach in picture postcards from places like Waikiki.
Anyway, has anyone felt the Earth wobble lately? No?
Maybe the sky isn’t falling after all.
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.