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Just a Little Closer to the Volcano ...

Just a Little Closer to the Volcano ...

Kilauea eruption with molten lava and papaya trees near Kapoho, Hawaii, 1960. 35mm Ektachrome transparency, photographer unknown. View full size.


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Papaya Zombies of Kilauea

More 1960 Kilauea pics from the U.S. Geological Survey website:

Defoliated papayas in orchard at the north edge of the Saefuji orchid farm.

Papaya fruit cooked by radiant heat from the fountain and flow and sheared away by falling pumice.

Eerie twilight view of papaya zombies at foot of high fountain.

Stripped coconut palms north of fissure.


Has anyone noticed the trees that are deep into the lava aren't burning or even smoking. They should have ignited instantaneously. I've watched lava flow through trees often and they quickly smoke then burn.

[See photos above. - Dave]

The Trees

The palm trees are far behind the eruption. The "volcano," such as it is, is maybe three or four stories tall. You can see it from a distance here. The parts of the papaya trees remaining above the cinders are maybe four or five feet tall - below eye level of the person holding the camera. This was a rift that opened up in a sugar cane field on January 13, 1960. Two weeks later the lava flow reached the settlement of Kapoho a few hundred yards away. Despite everyone's best efforts (bulldozing a dike, spraying water on the lava) the town was obliterated and never resettled.

Re: Fake Trees?

I think the photo is real as well. The reason I think it looks "off" is that we lack a reliable scale reference. I've been thinking about this for a bit, and I think the main problem is how we perceive the lava flow. If we see it as as large as it really is, then everything looks fine. But if we see it as much smaller than it really is (Glenn's comment that "it looks like the lava at the right of the picture is at most 2 feet from the lens" indicates that this is how he is perceiving it), then the trees suddenly look abnormally large.

So why does the lava flow look small? Well, yes, the palms in the background are much taller than the papaya trees, but that's only part of it. Other reasons include:

1) Difficulty in perceiving the distance of the volcano (and the palm trees that appear to be next to it). The air is hazy with smoke, making objects look farther away than they really are.

2) Depth of field. The depth of field is relatively narrow for a shot like this, again making the volcano look further away. In fact, the photograph almost looks like a tilt-shift lens shot, making everything in the foreground look "miniature" or "model-like."

3) The size of the debris. Those chunks of debris are actually fairly large, but if we see them as gravel (which is fairly small), it again throws the scale out of whack.

(The glow around the trees and papaya, by the way, might just be light bleeding into what is otherwise a dark background. I'm not really sure, though.)

Just some ideas. Sorry for the long post, but stuff like this (i.e., how we perceive things) fascinates me.

Re: Fake Trees?

The trees in the distance are palms - much taller than the ones in the foreground. There's no "impression" on the pumice cinders because they've fallen down like rain (and knocked the papaya leaves off).

Just my $0.02

I think the pic's legit. The distant trees are some much taller species; the nearby papayas are pretty short. The gravel, I think, is ash from the volcano, so there's no way of knowing to what depth the trunks and roots are covered. The air is extremely hazy, hence no shadows and a sort of glow around stuff.

Fake Trees?

The trees in this photo have got to be faked. This looks like a poster background for a B-movie! Judging by the scale of the lava and the gravel on the ground, it looks like the lava at the right of the picture is at most 2 feet from the lens. The "trees" make no impression on the gravel and have a strange "glow" around them that is probably a result of the compositing process. Check out the real trees on the horizon on the left side of the photo. They are nearly as tall as the ones being "engulfed" by lava despite being what appears to be at least a half-mile away!

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