Volcano Watch: Words matter — Lava, not fire, but island or raft or basalt berg?

Islands have been observed in Kilauea lava lakes for more than 100 years — some move and some are moored. These two photographs of Halema‘uma‘u crater from 1917 (top) and 2021 (bottom) show islands floating in lava lakes. The 1917 photographic panorama was taken from the edge of the lava lake, which was only about 100 feet below the crater rim and Kilauea caldera floor. At the time, the island rose about 65 feet up from the surface and was 330 feet wide in the direction depicted. (K. Mulliken via HVO/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Words matter in volcanology just as in the rest of society. Words matter among volcanologists themselves, of course, but they particularly matter in our dealings with the public, when we attempt to both tell what is happening and educate about how volcanoes work. Accuracy of words promotes understanding and clarity of thought and is essential to both telling and educating.