Harmful SO2 emissions of Mt. Kilauea eruption tracked by NASA Satellites


NASA released a satellite image of sulfur dioxide being released from the Mt. Kilauea of the Hawaiian Islands. The Kilauea had erupted in the past days and has caused large evacuations, earthquakes, lava flows 

Mt. Kilauea is said to be one of the active volcanoes of the world. The recent eruption has caused the release of large amounts of sulfur dioxide to the atmosphere, which can cause burning sensation and severe coughing.

The magma contains several dissolved gasses and these gasses are the ones that provide the push or driving force to cause eruptions in most cases. As the magma rises up towards the surface, the pressure will decrease and cause the gasses in the liquid part of magma to release. These gases continuously travel up and are eventually released into the atmosphere. The amount of release of gas will depend upon the grade of the eruption. Large eruptions will release enormous gas amounts in a very short time. 

The gas released more abundantly is water vapor which is harmless. Other gasses that will be released in large quantities are carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and hydrogen halides. Carbon in small amounts is harmless usually, but when coming from a volcano is deadly. It usually gets diluted in the atmosphere after an eruption, but after consecutive eruptions, the cold carbon dioxide will ooze down to low lying areas. When accumulated this can be very dangerous. Intake of 3 to 15 percent of carbon dioxide can cause serious illnesses, and if the amount goes beyond 15 percent, the effect can be fatal.  

Sulfur dioxide also can cause a variety of health concerns. Even though it is colorless like carbon dioxide, it has a pungent smell. SO2 emission can cause acid rain and atmospheric pollution as wind flows. In Hawaii, the eruption of Kilauea produced high concentrations of SO2 which caused smog (VOG) that affected people’s health. When big eruptions occur, SO2 will get injected into altitudes larger than 10km high into the stratosphere. Here the sulfur dioxide gets converted to sulfate aerosols which play an important role in the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer. 

The Aura satellite was launched by NASA in the year 2004 to observe and provide scientific data on the atmospheric chemistry of Earth. The mission mainly concentrated on the ozone layer, changing climates and the air quality of the planet.