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Lava from Hawaii volcano cascades into sea

Associated Press logo Associated Press 18/08/2016

For the first time in three years, lava from a volcano on Hawaii's Big Island has crept down a mountainside and is dripping into the Pacific Ocean - where it's creating new land and a stunning show for visitors.

Thousands of people from around the world have swarmed Volcanoes National Park by land, sea and air to view the lava. They're also hearing and smelling it.

The billowy, bright-orange lava crackles and hisses, and reeks of sulfur and scorched earth, as it oozes across the rugged landscape and eventually off steep, seaside cliffs.

When the hot rocks hit the water, they expel plumes of steam and gas - and sometimes explode, sending chunks of searing debris flying through the air.

The 2000-degree molten rock is from Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes.

Its Puu Oo vent began erupting in the 1980s and periodically pushes enough lava seaward that people can access it.

Reaching the flow requires a boat, a helicopter or strong legs - the hike to the entry point, where the lava meets the sea, is 16km roundtrip on a gravel road surrounded by kilometres of treacherous, hard lava rock.

Volcanoes National Park has seen an increase of about 1000 to 1500 visitors per day since the current lava flow reached the sea, boosting attendance to about 6000 people daily, officials said.

When the lava reaches the ocean, it reacts with the saltwater and produces harmful hydrochloric acid, which wafts into the air, said Janet Babb, a US Geological Survey geologist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

As it streams into the water, the lava creates a new landscape in a matter of moments.

According to the US Geological Survey, the Puu Oo flow alone has created about 200 hectares of new land since it began erupting. The flow that began in May has created about three new hectares.

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