Expert says Kilauea volcanic activity is steady


According to U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist Matt Patrick, Kilauea’s volcanic activity is steady.

“There’s no sign of it slowing down, stopping or speeding up,” he told a packed room at a Volcano Awareness Month presentation held Tuesday at the Kilauea Visitor Center auditorium.

Patrick gave an hourlong overview on Halemaumau Crater and its active lava lake that fills the overlook crater, as well as a summary of the history of the summit area of Kilauea volcano.

Using real-time webcam footage, he showed attendees how the overlook crater has seen fluctuating lava lake activity, with occasional explosions caused by parts of the rim of the crater falling into the lave lake.

According to information provided by USGS, the level of the lake fluctuates constantly. The rise and fall is dependent upon gas buildup within the lava that pushes the surface up as much as 65 feet before the gas escapes and the lava drops down.

During the past year, the lava level was generally around 100 to 165 feet below the rim. Five years ago, the lava was at one of its lowest points at 720 feet below the floor of Halemaumau; two years ago it was at a relatively high level, about 200 feet below the crater rim.

Patrick said it’s currently around 160 feet below the rim.

“It’s been in that general vicinity over the past year. No indication that we’re going to depart from that. We can also have potentially abrupt changes,” he said.

Active Lava Hawaiian Tours owner Michele Lopez said she attended the event to learn more about what was going on with the volcano. Lopez said she had to stop her tours after changes occurred along the east rift zone in 2013.

“So what happened on Oct. 1 of last year, apparently the lava had stopped flowing in Kalapana. So for us, there’s no ocean entry, no coastal plane entry, no pali entry for our tours. For the last three months, tour companies have been idle,” she said. “So I went in there and got informed in order to predict and anticipate what’s happening with the volcano.”

Eruption has been ongoing in the east rift zone since 1983, but the flow recently changed directions. Previously it had been flowing into the ocean and along the coastal plain which, Patrick said, was easier for people to see.

“Eight months ago, the vent changed location and the flow changed direction into a much more remote area,” he said.

Mayor Billy Kenoi issued a proclamation in 2010 designating January as Volcano Awareness Month. Talks, discussions and activities regarding the volcano are made possible by the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, in cooperation with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the University of Hawaii at Hilo and Hawaii County Civil Defense.

For more information about the month’s activities, visit the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory website at hvo.wr.usgs.gov.

Email Megan Moseley at mmoseley@hawaiitribune-herald.com.