Kilauea crater still a hotbed of activity

The wise old saying that a photograph is worth a thousand words certainly applies to one of the longest-running volcanic shows on Earth, the eruption of Kilauea Volcano. This aerial photograph of Pu`u `O`o cone on February 18 shows a clear view of the crater toward the southwest. Since 1987, repeated collapses of the cone have formed a crater more than 400 m (1,300 ft) long and about 250 m (820 ft) wide. The crater has been as deep as 210 m (690 ft), but lava flows erupted in the past few years have nearly filled the crater.

Lava overflowing the crater since 1997 have paved the cone’s east side (foreground) with gray-black pahoehoe flows. This area is called the East Spillway. The low point in the far crater wall is the West Gap, an area that began collapsing as early as 1993. Another large spillway extends west and north from the West Gap area.

The brown-colored sides of the cone are all that remain of the original surface created during the high-fountaining episodes between 1983 and 1986. This surface consists of cinder and spatter ejected by the fountains.

A bright glow from the Pu`u O`o crater is a common sight these nights as lava churns just below the surface of several active spatter cones on the crater floor. The brightest glow results when lava fragments shoot out from the cones and small flows spread across the crater floor or break out from other vents and lava tubes south of Pu`u `O`o (not visible in this image). Be sure to check out the panorama image that is updated every five minutes on our Web site for a view of the latest crater activity.

Currently the most active crater vents are located nearest the East Spillway. The East Pond Vent is composed of two spatter cones that have grown within a collapsed crater more than 20 m (66 ft) in diameter. The glowing cone on the left is nearly 10 m (33 ft) tall and can be seen easily from the Mountain View and Glenwood areas.

The East Pond Vent came to life at its present location by September 2001, when the crater floor was about 40 m (130 ft) deeper than it is today. Immediately behind this vent is the January vent, which first appeared, along with a few other small vents, in January 2002.

Typical northeasterly tradewinds were in full force in this recent image, spreading bluish-white fume-a mixture of gas and tiny particles-from the crater to the southwest. Pu`u `O`o is currently releasing a tremendous amount of noxious sulfur dioxide gas, 3,000 to 5,000 tonnes per day, compared to the long term average of about 1,500 tonnes per day. This large gas emission rate indicates that more than a million cubic meters (yards) of lava is erupting from Kilauea each day.

Activity Update

Eruptive activity at Pu`u `O`o continues. At least five of the vents inside Pu`u `O`o crater and on the west and southwest flanks of the cone were spattering this past week, producing bright glow on clear nights.

The PKK flow continues to host substantial breakouts from the 2,300-ft elevation to the coastal plain. Three ocean entries are currently active. From west to east, these entries are located at West Highcastle, East Lae`apuki, and Ka`ili`ili. The closest activity to the end of Chain of Craters Road, in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, is at West Highcastle, 2.6 km (1.6 mi) from the ranger shed. The West Highcastle entry is barely active, but surface flows were active on March 2 about 500 m inland of the entry. Expect a 1-to-1.5-hour walk each way and remember to bring lots of water. Stay well back from the sea cliff, regardless of whether there is an active ocean entry or not. Heed the National Park warning signs.

During the week ending March 3, only one earthquake was felt on Hawai`i Island. The magnitude-3.2 quake occurred 6 km (3.7 miles) south of Pu`u `O`o at a depth of 9 km (5.7 miles) at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, February 24.

Mauna Loa is not erupting. The summit region abruptly stopped inflating at the end of January and then started inflating again in mid to late February. Since July 2004, the rate of inflation and number of deep earthquakes has increased. Weekly earthquake counts have varied from 5 to over 150 in the last half of 2004 but have been less than 10 since the beginning of 2005. During the week ending March 3, only five earthquakes were recorded beneath the summit area, including long-period and short-period events from deep to shallow levels.

This article was written by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaii Volcano Observatory and is republished by with permission.

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