An acid rain threat now looms over Hawaii

We’ve all been captivated by the scenes from Kilauea and the communities of Leilani Estates and Pahoa, where fissures from the erupting volcano have emerged in the middle of neighborhoods, forcing evacuations and causing fires as the slow moving lava has no shortage of fuel.

One thing that separates Kilauea from other volcanoes is the slow creep of lava, coupled with a tropical location. Instead of the various gasses settling out with the dust and ash cloud, emitted in an explosive eruption, it’s seeping out slowly and hanging, alone in the skies above Hawai’i.

Hawai’I is well known for its countryside, which is only possible because of all the available moisture in the area. Inevitably, a tropical wave will move into the area, and the winds driving into the high peaks of the Big Island will form rain showers. Now, however, the uninvited guest of sulfur dioxide will mix with the water vapor forming clouds.

As a result, acid rain is a real possibility for part of The Big Island around Kilauea. Fortunately, sulfur dioxide is a fairly heavy compound, and the threat for such an event covers a small area geographically. Still, Hawai’i is known for plant life, which will be effected by the potentially dangerous rain, and one of Hawai’I’s largest cities, Hilo, is downhill from Pahoa and Leilani Estates.

When Kilauea finally stops erupting, the first heavy rainfall around the volcano should effectively eliminate the threat of continued acid rain. Unfortunately, the geology is tougher to forecast than the meteorology in this instance, and nobody quite knows when that will be.