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If it happened yesterday, it can happen tomorrow

We’ve learned a lot about Kilauea’s explosive history in the past 15 years. Once thought to be rare, explosive eruptions from the volcano’s summit are instead frequent and clustered into periods lasting several centuries. For example, between 1500 and the late 1700s, Kilauea’s eruptions were almost always explosive. We can be thankful that Kilauea is in a quiet period now, but we shouldn’t have an ostrich mentality about the future. If it happened yesterday, it can happen tomorrow.

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Description of Kilauea eruptions started at opportune time

William Ellis led a team of missionaries on a tour of the Island of Hawaii starting on July 18, 1823, from the village of Kailua. Their trip took them around the southern coast of the island and inland through the east Ka‘u District. When they were in the vicinity of Kapapala, a short distance northeast of Pahala, their attention was drawn to some rising columns of “smoke” a few miles away.

A new lava flow begins as another ends

For the past year, the Kahaualea 2 lava flow was erupting from a vent high on the northeast crater rim of Puu Oo, on Kilauea’s east rift zone, sending lava toward the northeast. Although this lava flow advanced very slowly, and erratically, it was uphill from residential areas and posed a potential future hazard. Several interruptions to the lava supply at the vent occurred over the past year but nothing large enough to terminate the flow. In the early morning of June 27, the terminal event finally arrived.

Mauna Loa lava flow again threatened Hilo in 1881

A few weeks ago, a Volcano Watch article recounted the advance of Mauna Loa lava on the town of Hilo in 1855. Titus Coan, a fervent investigator and observer of all things volcanic, was in his mid-50s at the time and walked up to the source of the flow at least seven times between August 1855, when the eruption began, and February 1856, when the lava flow stopped. By the end of the eruption, Coan understood how lava flows advanced with a level of detail that no one else had achieved before.

The Kahaualea 2 flow continues its slow, erratic advance

For the past several years, the amount of lava erupting from Kilauea’s East Rift Zone has been well below the long-term output rate established earlier in the Puu Oo eruption. In fact, calculations show that, since 2010, only about half as much lava is being erupted at any given time as before. The reason for this is unknown; maybe it is a consequence of the opening of Kilauea’s summit eruptive vent in 2008 or perhaps it is a natural variability in the amount of magma arriving beneath the volcano from the Earth’s mantle.

Mauna Loa — a stirring giant?

After a 30-year repose, Mauna Loa may be slowly stirring to life. While there are no signs of impending eruption, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has recorded an increased level of seismic activity on the flanks and summit of Mauna Loa over the past 13 months.