A lava lake on Hawaii’s Big Island is mere feet from overflowing. On Tuesday morning, the lava’s surface briefly reached the lake’s rim, the highest it’s been since the current eruption began in 2008. It has since returned to about 10 feet below the rim. “Magma is rising up into the lava lake from a magma chamber a mile or so beneath the summit of Kilauea volcano,” research geologist Matthew Patrick told The Huffington Post. According to Patrick, an overflow is a definite possibility because Kilauea has been consistently inflating for the past week, meaning that magma keeps flowing into the lake from an underground chamber below.

In the event of an overflow, the lava would stay within Halemaumau Crater, the larger crater in the floor of which the lava lake sits, so it would pose no safety threat. But visitors to Volcanoes National Park would get quite a display. Typically, the lava surface is 100 to 200 feet below the rim of the crater lake and therefore can’t be seen from the public viewing area around the volcano. Since the lava has risen, Patrick said, “its incandescent cracks and often vigorous spattering” can easily be seen from the overlook. An overflow would “likely provide an impressive scene for park visitors.” While this is a notable development in the current eruption, it’s not particularly unusual in the history of Kilauea, Patrick said. MORE