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Fiery lava erupting into the air signals the awakening of a Hawaiian volcano. If you’ve heard news about Hawaii and are wondering exactly where lava is flowing at this moment, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island has been erupting continuously from its summit crater Halemaʻumaʻu since December 2020.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the details around the current Kilauea volcano eruption, including what’s causing the lava flows, which areas are affected, the history behind this active volcano, and what scientists are saying about the ongoing summit eruption based on close monitoring.

Ongoing Summit Eruption at Kilauea Volcano

Eruptive Activity Since 2020

Kilauea volcano sprang to life in dramatic fashion on December 20, 2020, as lava erupted within Halemaʻumaʻu crater at the summit. This marked the start of the ongoing eruption after a rest period of about two years.

The lava lake has been continuously active for over two years now, with fountains reaching up to 588 feet at times!

Since the start of the eruption, the lava lake within Halemaʻumaʻu has gone through cycles of rising and falling. Activity ranges from calm, crusted-over periods to spectacular lava fountaining episodes sending molten rock high into the air. This makes viewing conditions highly variable.

What’s Causing the Eruption

The current summit eruption at Kilauea is occurring along a major rift zone where underground magma pathways allow molten rock to ascend towards the surface from the volcano’s hotspot deep underground. As pressure builds, new magma intrusions crack open fissures and provide fresh infusions of lava.

Scientists monitor tiltmeters and GPS stations to track underground swelling and sinking, signaling when pressure is building within the magma reservoir. Seismic activity also gives clues on magma movement.

All signs currently point to the eruption continuing for the foreseeable future as the volcano remains active.

Lava Lake Formation

Since early 2021, eruptive activity has led to the formation of a persistent lava lake within Halemaʻumaʻu crater. Lava lakes are rare volcanic phenomena where lava remains molten for extended periods, often cycling between crusted-over and violently overflowing.

Kilauea’s lava lake likely stands about 500-600 feet deep when filled. This fluctuates based on the level of lava within Halemaʻumaʻu’s oval-shaped pit, which measures roughly 1,000 feet long by 2,000 feet wide. Recent estimates put the volume at around 100 million cubic meters of lava!

Impacts of the Summit Eruption

Closed Areas

The ongoing eruption at the summit of Kilauea volcano has led authorities to close certain high risk areas to the public. According to the National Park Service, popular spots like Jaggar Museum and the Kilauea Overlook have been shut down since 2018 when increased volcanic activity posed dangers from flying debris and toxic gases.

Sections of Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road also remain closed off.

These closures have impacted tourists hoping to see the incredible lava flows up close. But with over 500 acres of land covered by lava since the start of the eruption, risk mitigation remains a priority. Access to active eruption sites can only be granted once conditions are deemed safe again.

Air Quality Issues

The gases and particulates spewed from the Kilauea summit present air quality concerns. The Hawaii Interagency Vog Information Dashboard provides real-time monitoring of sulfur dioxide and particulate levels across Hawaii.

Prolonged exposure to vog (volcanic air pollution) can cause breathing issues, particularly for those with respiratory illnesses.

When winds blow emissions southwest towards populated areas, vog advisories are issued. Both locals and visitors are advised to avoid outdoor activities during these times. Sensitive groups like children and the elderly may require extra precautions until the air quality improves.

Scientific Response and Monitoring

Experts from the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are keeping a close eye on the situation. Sophisticated monitoring networks track earthquakes, ground deformation, gas emissions, and other signals to assess hazard levels.

Live webcam feeds allow the activity happening deep within Halemaʻumaʻu crater to be viewed by scientists and the public alike. Drones are also deployed for aerial surveys. All data gathered enables authorities to issue warnings if hazardous conditions arise.

Detailed mapping efforts track every twist and turn of the evolving lava channels. This helps predict what areas are most at risk if flows head in certain directions. Understanding as much as possible about the volcano supports effective emergency response.

History and Background on Kilauea Volcano

East Rift Zone Eruption 2018

The most destructive lava eruption from Kilauea in recent years began in May 2018. Several vents opened in the volcano’s lower East Rift Zone and unleashed scorching lava flows that buried entire neighborhoods and destroyed over 700 structures in the area.

The 2018 eruption ranks as one the most damaging volcanic events in modern U.S. history, with lava covering an astounding 13.7 square miles of land. This event will stand out in Kilauea’s long history due to its unusually high lava production rate of over 200 cubic meters per second at its peak.

Prior Summit Lava Lakes

Before the destructive 2018 eruption, Kilauea had experienced a time of relative calm in the preceding decade, with persistent lava lakes simmering at the volcano’s summit crater. These summit lava lakes were a popular tourist attraction that brought visitors from all over the world.

The nearly constant glow at the top supplied striking views of roiling molten rock. From 2008-2018, the lava lakes underwent various rises and falls, reaching heights up to 574 feet at times within Halemaʻumaʻu crater.

Long History of Activity

With documented eruptions for over 90% of the past 200 years, Kilauea stands out as one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Indigenous Hawaiian chants and legends tell tales of fearsome historic eruptions and lava flows from Kilauea that date back seven centuries.

In written history, explosions and lava fountaining reaching 1,500 feet high were observed in Kilauea eruptions during the 1800s. Over the past 100 years, new lava covered over 75 square miles of terrain across the island.

While mostly non-explosive, Kilauea does present an ever-present risk due to sporadic explosive activity and shoreline bench collapses that can generate deadly local tsunamis.

Future Outlook and Ongoing Assessment

Scenarios for Continued Unrest

The current eruption at the summit of Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island shows no signs of stopping. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), scenarios for continued unrest range from additional lava flows to explosive eruptions sending ash into communities downwind.

Geologists cannot predict exactly how long the eruption will continue, but make comparisons to prior events for context. The current eruption which began in September 2021 bears similarities to eruptions in 1983 and 2018 which lasted months to years.

However, each volcanic event has unique properties making timelines difficult to project.

Prediction Challenges

While modern technology like seismic sensors and satellite data give scientists far more insight than decades past, forecasting volcanic behavior has innate uncertainties.

“Eruptions are very complex natural phenomena, and the subsurface processes are not yet fully understood,” said USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Scientist-in-Charge Ken Hon during a community talk. “There are simply too many variables at play.”

Factors impacting lava flows and potential explosions include the variable rate of magma rising into the summit, the changing chemistry of that magma, groundwater interaction, and the stability of crater walls among other dynamics not directly observable.

Staying Safe

The Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency provides real-time alerts on hazardous volcanic activity to keep Big Island residents and visitors safe. These warnings made over radio, TV, and online advise people in vulnerable areas to prepare for evacuation if needed.

Currently, the hazards are focused on the remote summit region of Kilauea. However, if trade winds push volcanic gases or if explosive activity ejects ash into air, communities may experience falling ash and poor air quality downwind. Staying informed is key to reducing health impacts.

While predicting volcanic behavior has uncertainties, advanced monitoring combined with effective emergency response plans help mitigate risks from Kilauea and other active Hawaiian volcanoes.


The eruption at the summit of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has now been continuous for over two years, contained within Halemaʻumaʻu crater beside a towering lava lake. As the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory closely tracks activity, scientists remain vigilant for any hazards while marveling at the raw power being unleashed at one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

For those living in Hawaii or planning travel, it’s important to follow safety guidelines and any warnings that could come if lava flows pose a greater threat. While Kilauea has erupted many times before over centuries of observations, this volcano remains full of surprises.

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