Work's a real blast: the couple who brought volcanoes into startling focus

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The Independent US

This is everyday life in the US state of Hawaii – the continuously erupting volcano of Kilauea, the most active in the world, whose constant fires and lava flows are regularly captured by vulcanologist-photographers Steve and Donna O'Meara.

Although Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, its eruptions are not violently explosive, enabling it to be a tourist attraction as well as a valuable resource for vulcanologists such as the O'Mearas.

The pair have been researching and photographing volcanoes since they first met in 1986. They spent one of their first dates in a helicopter witnessing a Kilauea eruption from above, got married on the volcano, and now live on its flanks with their dog, Daisy Duke.

Together they have visited more than 100 of the world's active volcanoes, taking graphic images of violent eruptions and spectacular lava fountains; but they also run their own company, Volcanic Watch, to research volcanoes in a bid to predict when they are likely to erupt in order to save the lives of those living close to them.

"We go to villages where people are living on active volcanoes all over the world, and we try to educate the local people on the dangers," said Donna. "You could die everytime you go to a volcano but you have to go and observe them in order to learn new things about them.

"Santa Maria Aguito in Guatemala has to have the most dangerous eruptions, with frequent giant mud flows of ash, which literally wipe out entire towns at hurricane speeds. We visited in 1992, the people living there were so nice. But just a few weeks after we arrived home an eruption wiped out the entire village. It was really sad."

The pictures show Kilauea itself, located on Hawaii's Big Island, erupting and being photographed by Steve. "It is dangerous and we are always cautious," he said. "You have to be; one moment of stupidity could cost you your life."

All the Hawaiian islands were formed from volcanic activity, but the only active volcanoes are located around the southern half of the less densely populated Big Island, or Hawaii itself. The capital, Honolulu, is located on a different island, Oahu, 200 miles away.