Science & Nature

EXPLAINER: What Kilauea’s historical past tells us about its future

HONOLULU (AP) — Kilauea, one of the vital lively volcanos on Earth, started erupting on Hawaii’s Big Island Wednesday. The eruption isn’t in an space with properties and is solely contained inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Officials mentioned elevated earthquake exercise and floor swelling earlier than the eruption put them on excessive alert. Fissures then opened within the summit space and despatched lava fountaining into the sky. Now the realm has stuffed with molten rock, making a lake of lava within the volcano’s crater.

The new lava is an anticipated evolution of a volcano that’s recharging after an enormous eruption in 2018 drained a lot of its magma.

The 2018 eruption destroyed lots of of properties and displaced hundreds of residents. But consultants say this newest eruption isn’t anticipated to move into residential areas.

Here’s an outline of the newest eruption at Kilauea:


Scientists on the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory seen a surge of earthquakes about 5 miles (8 kilometers) east of the summit’s caldera early Wednesday. By the afternoon one other collection of earthquakes accompanied by floor swelling prompted them to extend the alert stage.

“We picked up a collection of earthquakes down the east rift zone, so on the order of about 5 miles from the summit. And these form of got here in what we’d name a small swarm. So one after one other,” mentioned Ken Hon, the USGS scientist in control of Hawaii Volcano Observatory. “They had been sufficient of an alert that we turned suspicious that strain was constructing inside the system.”

The company raised its alert stage “to orange or watch, anticipating that there is perhaps an eruption,” Hon mentioned. “And 20 minutes later, in truth, there was an eruption.”

It’s not unusual for Kilauea to have earthquakes, which frequently point out magma is shifting underground or elements of the volcanos are shifting. Earthquakes and floor swelling on the identical time generally is a precursor to an eruption.


Eruptions on Kilauea should not unusual. In truth, the volcano erupted practically repeatedly for many years, however principally not in densely populated residential areas earlier than the 2018 eruption. That occasion destroyed greater than 700 properties and displaced hundreds of residents.

Kilauea had been lively since 1983 and streams of lava often coated rural farms and houses. During that point, the lava generally reached the ocean, inflicting dramatic interactions with the water.

The identical space of the volcano that started erupting Wednesday additionally erupted in December and lasted till May.

Hawaiian chants and tales inform the tales of numerous eruptions. In Hawaiian custom, Kilauea is dwelling to the volcano goddess Pele. Kilauea has erupted 34 occasions since 1952.


Hon mentioned that inside hours of Wednesday’s eruption the volcano’s summit crater ground had been coated in additional than 6 toes (2 meters) of lava.

Over 4 months in 2018, Kilauea spewed sufficient lava to fill 320,000 Olympic-sized swimming swimming pools, burying an space greater than half the dimensions of Manhattan in as much as 80 toes (24 meters) of now-hardened lava. The molten rock diminished landmarks, streets and neighborhoods to an enormous discipline of blackened boulders and volcanic shard.

The eruption in December created a lava lake with sufficient molten rock to fill 10 Hoover dams.

After the 2018 eruption, a summit lava lake in the identical space stopped erupting and for the primary time in recorded historical past started to fill with water, making a recent water lake tinged with volcanic materials.


Hawaii Volcanoes National Park remained open to the general public and officers anticipated tens of hundreds of holiday makers to come back see the brand new eruption.

National park spokesperson Jessica Ferracane mentioned that whereas the lava itself is much from the place folks can hike or drive, different hazards nonetheless exist.

Gases that emanate from the volcano could be harmful if inhaled, and whereas the plume is billowing away from folks, the wind may change and ship it over areas the place the general public gathers.

Ferracane mentioned folks with sure well being circumstances ought to keep away from the gasoline.

She additionally famous that there are big cracks within the floor that individuals can fall into and that guests ought to keep away from approaching the sting of the caldera. There is an almost 500-foot (152.4-meter) drop from the crater rim to the ground.

Ferracane added that giant crowds have to be conscious of pandemic considerations.

“This eruption goes to attract many individuals to the park, we’re already seeing folks come into the park, drive in after darkish tonight,” Ferracane mentioned. “Really want folks to keep in mind that we’re in the midst of a pandemic and they should keep protected and to maintain us protected, too.”

She mentioned folks should preserve 6 toes (1.8 meters) aside and put on masks.


It occurred on the summit of Kilauea volcano, an uninhabited space inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. This is about 200 miles (322 kilometers) southeast of Honolulu, which is on a distinct island known as Oahu.

“All indicators point out that it’ll keep inside the crater,” mentioned Hon, the USGS scientist. “We’re not seeing any indications that lava is shifting into the decrease a part of the east rift zone the place folks stay. Currently all of the exercise is inside the park.”

The web site is miles from the closest city. The park has closed off this a part of the summit to the general public since 2008.

The 2018 eruption was within the decrease east rift zone. Fissures opened throughout Leilani Estates and different populated areas of the island’s Puna district. Lava from that eruption snaked to the Pacific Ocean, destroying properties and farms alongside the way in which. Lava evaporated a recent water lake and created a brand new black sand seaside.


Because a lot of the magma that had fueled Kilauea for years erupted in 2018, the volcano is now recharging and can erupt once more sooner or later.

Hon mentioned some of these small eruptions may very well be occurring for years because the volcano fills up.

“The magma retains coming in to Kilauea at a reasonably fixed price and so it’s both filling the within of the volcano … or it’s popping out to the floor,” he mentioned.

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