A toxic cloud of sulfur dioxide is rising from the ongoing volcanic eruption event in eastern Hawaii and winds are drifting that cloud well south and west of the erupting fissures. A plume of sulfur dioxide was detected by the Ozone Mapper Profiler Suite (OMPS) on the Suomi-NPP satellite. Sulfur dioxide affects human health when it is breathed in. It irritates the nose, throat, and airways to cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or a tight feeling around the chest. The effects of sulfur dioxide are felt very quickly and most people would feel the worst symptoms in 10 or 15 minutes after breathing it in. Those most at risk of developing problems if they are exposed to sulfur dioxide are people with asthma or similar conditions. Extreme concentrations of sulfur dioxide can be deadly if inhaled. When combined with other substances additional hazards can be created; as an example, rain falling through a sulfur dioxide plume could produce an acid rainfall. Sulfur dioxide is invisible to the human eye, but when it reacts with other gases, aerosol particles can form to cause haze, and according to NASA in extreme widespread events, climate cooling.
The area around the eruptive event is where the most dangerous concentration of gas is. Authorities have ordered evacuations for the area immediately around the active eruption. “Hawaii Fire Department reports extremely dangerous conditions due to high levels of Sulfur Dioxide gas in the evacuation area. Elderly, young, and people with compromised respiratory systems are especially vulnerable,” warns the Hawaii County Civil Defense. They add, “The high levels detected are an immediate threat to life for all who become exposed. First responders may not be able to come to the aid of residents who refuse to evacuate. The area continues to be unstable with multiple volcanic eruptions happening. No one is allowed into the area. Do not attempt to return to your home at this time.”
In February of this year, a rain shower over an active lava flow in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park killed a tour guide. The rain interacted with the lava, creating a lethal fume.
In May 2017, we sent a meteorologist to observe hydrochloric acid clouds that were forming when lava from the volcano in Hawaii interacted with ocean water. While the risk of acid rain and clouds exists now from this eruption event, there is no active ocean entry at this time and as such there is no plume of toxic gas being created on the coast of Hawaii.
The Sunomi-NPP satellite is a next-generation Earth-observing satellite system that will collect data on long-term climate change and short-term weather conditions. NPP is the result of a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Defense. The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (NPP) is the first mission designed to collect critical data to improve weather forecasts in the short-term and increase our understanding of long-term climate change. NPP continues observations of Earth from space that NASA has pioneered for more than 40 years. NPP’s five science instruments, including four new state-of-the-art sensors, will provide scientists with data to extend more than 30 key long-term datasets. These records, which range from the ozone layer and land cover to atmospheric temperatures and ice cover, are critical for global change science.
“NPP’s observations of a wide range of interconnected Earth properties and processes will give us the big picture of how our planet changes,” said Jim Gleason, NPP project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “That will help us improve our computer models that predict future environmental conditions. Better predictions will let us make better decisions, whether it is as simple as taking an umbrella to work today or as complex as responding to a changing climate.” NPP serves as a bridge between NASA’s Earth Observing System of satellites and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) which was launched last year.