Hot, liquid magma on the rise in Halemaumau Crater


HILO — Up. Up. Up.

So goes the lava lake at the summit of Kilauea Volcano, which continued its flurry of activity this week.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported Friday morning that the prior day’s activity once again resulted in a record height for the lava in Halemaumau Crater, which scientists say could become visible to onlookers from Jaggar Museum once the level rises to within 65 feet of the crater floor.

The USGS’ Kilauea update webpage reported that the lava lake surface was about 90 feet below the floor of Halemaumau Crater Thursday.

Jessica Ferracane, a spokeswoman for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, said Friday that the number of visitors to the park continues to grow, although she couldn’t directly attribute the increase to the recent volcanic activity. Part of the problem in getting an accurate number is that many of the visitors are coming to see the glow from the crater in the evening hours after dark, when there isn’t anyone at the front gate to take a count.

“There’s definitely an increase. But, there’s also been a bunch of cruise ship traffic that may account for some of that,” she added.

Ferracane said that in addition to the intensity of the visual show provided by the evening glow, which is “the brightest I’ve ever seen it,” the crater is also putting on a bit of a concert.

“It’s making these incredible sounds, like huge waves crashing on the rocky shore,” she said.

According to the USGS, the cracking noises, which are sometimes audible from the Jaggar overlook, are “caused by rocks of the vent wall fracturing from the heat.”

The lava lake is located deep within a 520-foot cylindrical vent with nearly vertical sides inset within the east wall and floor of Halemaumau Crater.

Within the last few weeks the lake levels have been steadily rising, following a pattern of inflation and deflation. However, experts warn, the activity is anything but predictable. As of late Friday afternoon, the crater appeared to be entering a period of deflation, with tiltmeter readings late in the day showing a sharp deflation of the crater’s magma storage areas.