Thurston Lava Tube likely to remain closed until 2019

  • Tourists walk through the Thurston Lava Tube in early 2016 at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (Hollyn Johnson/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — While much of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has been reopened since its historic closure earlier this year, some parts likely will remain closed until at least next year.

One of the park’s most popular features, Thurston Lava Tube, has remained closed since the park’s reopening because of concerns over its structural integrity following the several thousand earthquakes that rocked the park during the Kilauea eruption in lower Puna, which began in May.

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Analysis of the lava tube’s structure is expected to be completed by the end of the year, said park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane.

Ferracane said the park recently conducted a 3D laser scan of the tube’s interior, allowing analysts to precisely map its contours. The results of the scan will be compared to pre-eruption scan data to determine what changes to the tube, if any, have occurred, with subsequent analyses conducted to determine whether any changes have affected the tube’s integrity.

Furthermore, the park will conduct an additional in-person inspection of the tube by the end of November, Ferracane said.

Meanwhile, Ferracane said park officials are discussing the possibility of reopening areas of the park around the southwest side of Halema‘uma‘u Crater that have been closed since 2008 due to the high amounts of volcanic gases and vog rising from the crater. Because the crater is no longer venting fumes, such downwind areas could be reopened to the public for the first time in a decade.

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However, Ferracane said the park’s administration had only begun internal discussions of the possibility of reopening downwind areas on Monday. Furthermore, a decade of disuse and the violent tremors of the eruption have left that region of the park in dire need of repairs.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com