Volcanos, Eruptions, & You:
Home is Where The Molten Lava Is?!

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Your New Home (Maybe?)!



Hawaii is known for a number of landscapes like beautiful beaches and volcanoes (including three active ones!) With one currently erupting there is a great chance that lava could reach the ocean. When it reaches the sea, the lava cools down and hardens creating more land called lava extensions.

This geological event leads us to a pretty interesting legal question: Since it was created by a natural event, who exactly owns this new land? Before we look for an answer, let’s get some background on where this debate began:

In 1955 a volcano called Kilauea erupted and created over 7.9 acres of new land. A local family purchased previously-existing land next to where the lava extension had formed. The new owners assumed that they had full rights to the recently created parts, and not just the initial land they purchased.   They even paid property taxes and planted trees on it!

Following an eruption in the same area in 1960, the issue of who the land really belonged to ended up being taken to court.   Hawaii’s State Supreme Court ended up ordering the land owners to leave the lava-extension, and then issued the land-rights for the lava extension to the state.

The court ruled that the land created by the volcanic activity was for the “use and enjoyment of all the people”; instead of only allowing one family or person to use the land as they please, everyone gets to use it!.

Since the court ruling established that land created by lava belongs to the state, that meant that all of the land created by Kilauea’s eruption in 1955 belongs to the state of Hawaii. As a result, it was not just the one family and their bit of land that was affected by the court case’s outcome.


1)  Do you feel like the court ruled the right way?  In other words,  should a person who lives near lava-created land have the first chance to purchase it from the state before the government can decide to do something else with the new property?  Would your opinion change if person wanting to purchase the lava-extended land lived in a house 20 feet away?  Would it matter how long they’d been there – say….6 months….or 20 years?

2) In consideration of the questions brought up in number 1 above, tell us why you think the court ruling is or is not good enough, and why there should or should not be specific-laws be created to manage lava extensions in Hawaii ?   Just for context (there is no right or wrong answer, so this isn’t a hint): There is A LOT of volcanic activity near Hawaii.  It doesn’t always create land, but it could.  How that fact influences your answer is up to you!

3)  What about the government though?  Hawaii’s State Supreme Court ruled the land was created for the “use and enjoyment of all the people”.  Based on the wording of the court ruling, should the government be allowed to sell the new land to a business or individual, or should it be forced to use the land for a park, community center, or something along those lines?  Tell us what you think and why you feel that way.

Be sure to provide full explanations for your answers. For more details, you can read the article this piece was sourced from here:


Contributed by – J. Plummer

EARTH SPEWING FROM THE SEA, EXPLOSIONS, FIRE, Hawaii, HECK YEA!, land ownership, LAVA!, laws, legal questions, Own A Volcano, PBtR, Play By the Rules, Volcano Ownership, volcanoes,

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