Tag Archives: Kilauea

The 2018 eruption of Mount Kīlauea in Hawaii likely caused by rain

The 2018 eruption of Mount Kīlauea in Hawaii was likely triggered by excessive and sustained rainfall in the region, according to a new paper from the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Kīlauea Erupting with lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Image credits USGS.

Such findings have implications for volcanoes around the world, not just those in Hawaii, as they suggest local precipitation patterns could have an important role to play in the timing and frequency of eruptions.

Just add water

“We knew that changes in the water content in the Earth’s subsurface can trigger earthquakes and landslides. Now we know that it can also trigger volcanic eruptions,” said Falk Amelung, professor of geophysics at the UM Rosenstiel School and coauthor of the study.

“Under pressure from magma, wet rock breaks easier than dry rock. It is as simple as that.”

The team shows that the eruption was preceded by prolonged and at times extreme, rainfall in the months leading up to the event.

Kīlauea is an active shield volcano, one of the liveliest volcanoes in all of Hawaii. On May 3, 2018, it started spewing lava nearly two hundred feet in the air, eventually covering over 13 square miles of the well-populated east coast of Hawaii’s Big Island. The unprecedented event destroyed hundreds of homes and only ended four months later, in September, when the summit of the caldera (the volcano’s top) collapsed in on itself.

The researchers used data from ground- and satellite-based stations from NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Japanese Space Exploration Agency (JAXA), to model rainfall patterns in the area before the event and, from that, estimate the fluid pressure within the volcano over time.

This pressure is, essentially, what drives volcanoes to explode. Magma itself may be molten-hot, but it is generally quite harmless if left to its own devices. What actually pushes it out of the volcano is the buildup of fluids — gas and liquids — in the enclosed space. These fluids typically seep out of the magma as they escape the depths of the Earth, and thus encounter lower pressures. It’s the same mechanism that makes a can of soda pop if you shake it before opening.

All in all, the team explains that fluid pressure was highest just before the eruption — this wasn’t surprising. But they also calculated that it was the highest recorded pressure value in half a century at this point, which they argue helped move the magma and caused the eruption. Their hypothesis would also explain why there was no widespread uplift (from gas building up beneath the surface) at the volcano in the months prior.

“An eruption happens when the pressure in the magma chamber is high enough to break the surrounding rock and the magma travels to the surface,” said Amelung. “This pressurization causes inflation of the ground by tens of centimeters. As we did not see any significant inflation in the year prior to the eruption we started to think about alternative explanations.”

This is the first time that this mechanism has been invoked to explain deeper magmatic processes. In support of their theory, the team notes that Kīlauea’s historical eruption record shows it was almost twice as likely to erupt during the wettest parts of the year.

And, if this process is at work here, it’s likely to also take place at other volcanoes, the authors add. If such a link between rainfall and volcanism can be reliably determined, it “could go a long way towards advanced warning of associated volcanic hazards,” according to Jamie Farquharson, a postdoctoral researcher at the UM Rosenstiel School and lead author of the study.

“It has been shown that the melting of ice caps in Iceland led to changes of volcanic productivity,” said Farquharson. “As ongoing climate change is predicted to bring about changes in rainfall patterns, we expect that this may similarly influence patterns of volcanic activity.”

The paper “Extreme rainfall triggered the 2018 rift eruption at Kīlauea Volcano” has been published in the journal Nature.

Hawaii Authorities: Please don’t swim near erupting volcano

As the Kilauea volcano continues to erupt, and lava flows into the ocean, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) have an important message for people in the area: don’t swim there!

It’s always funny when authorities have to tell you not to swim near an active volcano, but this is where we’re at now in Hawaii. “Lava is entering the sea this morning on the southern portion of the flow front,” an HVO status report stated Tuesday, emphasizing that the area is still not stable and should be avoided for several reasons.

For starters, there’s the painfully obvious: it’s hot — really hot. Kilauea releases what is called mafic magma, which reaches temperatures of about 2,140 degrees Fahrenheit (1,200 Celsius). Even by volcano standards, that’s hot; by comparison, Mount St. Helens spewed cooler lava, about 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit (800 Celsius). Even though the lava cools off by a few hundred degrees the moment it comes in contact with the air, it’s still ungodly hot.

Then, the lava delta is very unstable. Even though it may seem rock-hard, it’s essentially just a bunch of unconsolidated material, which can break off or erode at any moment and slide into the sea.

Lava on Makamae Street. Image credits: USGS

Then, there are the toxic gases — the moment the lava comes in contact with the water, it releases something called “laze,” a mixture of white clouds of steam, toxic gas and tiny shards of volcanic glass, all of which can damage your skin, eyes, and lungs. So even though it may look harmless, it’s still very dangerous. Janet Babb, a geologist with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, says the plume “looks innocuous, but it’s not.”

“Residents are urged to minimize exposure to these volcanic particles, which can cause skin and eye irritation similar to volcanic ash,” the USGS wrote.

If that still doesn’t convince you, the USGS has one more warning: going near the sea exposes you to flying debris from the sudden explosive interaction between lava and water.

The bottom line — if you’re in Hawaii, you really, really shouldn’t go anywhere near the volcano or the water.

Lava from the Kilauea eruption engulfs a nursery in Kapoho, Hawaii. Image credits: Department of Defense.

So far, the eruption has forced over 2,000 people to evacuate, and the eruption is still very active. For more information on the still-developing situation you can follow:

  • Webcam images: https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/kilauea/multimedia_webcams.html
  • Photos/Video: https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/kilauea/multimedia_chronology.html
  • Lava Flow Maps: https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/kilauea/multimedia_maps.html

Kilauea erupts with massive explosion [photos and videos]

The Hawaiian volcano of Kilauea continues its explosive streak with a massive bang, creating what is essentially the modern version of Mordor.


Kilauea’s summit is rapidly deforming, aerial surveys have shown. The volcano was rocked by more than 180 explosions and earthquakes — with one explosive event throwing ash and gas plumes that towered to nearly 10,000 ft (over 3 km).

The USGS reported that there is little ground motion around the volcano, but the summit is subsiding rapidly. However, despite this, there’s very little chance of a summit collapse. The situation is still unclear and could change in the near future.

Hawaii volcano: Satellite photos of Kilauea reveal summit deformation. Image credits: USGS.

The USGS geologists added they’re not really sure for how long the volcano will continue to erupt — the only thing they know is that there have been massive eruptions, and there’s a good chance the eruptions will continue:

“We’re not exactly sure how much magma is stored beneath the summit. We have only estimates, but we are confident it is at least in excess of 100 times what has been erupted so far from Fissure Eight.”

Image credits: USGS.

Over 600 homes have already been destroyed by the lava, which the volcano is spewing out at a speed of 100 cubic meters per second — the equivalent 26,000 US gallons (98,000 liters) per second, roughly enough to fill 720 dump trucks every minute. Lava now covers 9.24 square miles (24 square km), the Hawaii Civil Defense Agency confirmed on Saturday.

More than 2,000 people have already been forced to relocate, and the eruption continues.

It’s not just the eruption itself, volcanic dust is also a health hazard, even if it cools down because it contains small bits of glass which can damage the nose or throat.

Fissure 8 of Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. Fissure 8 fountains reached heights up to 160 feet overnight on Friday. The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reports that fragments falling from the fountains are building a cinder-and-spatter cone around the vent. USGS image taken June 12, 2018, around 6:10 a.m. HST. View the latest images and videos via USGS.

Now, Kilauea seems to have settled down a bit. You can keep an eye out on it yourself using the USGS 24/7 livestream:

Alternatively, you can also stay up to date by following the USGS website or local social media accounts, for candid stories.



Kilauea volcano in Hawaii erupts, threatening local community. So far, everyone is safe

Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, has erupted at around 4:30 p.m. local time, ejecting magma, rocks, and toxic fumes.

“It sounded like there were rocks in a dryer that were being tumbled around,” said Jeremiah Osuna, who lives near Leilani Estates, one of two subdivisions evacuated. “You could hear the power it of it pushing out of the ground.”

The eruption didn’t exactly come as a surprise, not only because Kilauea is extremely active and eruptions happened regularly, but also because the eruption was preceded by a series of over 600 earthquakes — one of them going as high as 5.0 in magnitude.

All 1,500 inhabitants of Pahoa, which is close to the eruption, were told to leave after steam and lava started pouring out of a crack. In total, thousands of people have been evacuated following the eruption, with Governor David Ige saying he activated military reservists from the National Guard to help with the evacuations.

Currently, new ground cracks have been reported in the area, but the eruption seems to have calmed down. However, authorities have urged people to remain on alert. The opening phases of fissure eruptions are dynamic. Additional vents and new lava outbreaks may occur and at this time it is not possible to say where new vents may occur, the USGS writes.

Thankfully, no one was reportedly injured during the eruption. If anything, Hawaiians have grown to be quite resilient in the face of such eruptions. But, even for veterans, the event can be disturbing.

“Living on a volcano, everybody has got pretty thick skin. They know the risk,” said Ryan Finlay, who lives in Pahoa and runs an online trade school. “Lava for the most part has flown to the ocean the last 30 years. Everybody gets in a comfort zone. The last couple weeks, everything changed.”

For all its spectacular eruptions, Kilauea isn’t a particularly dangerous volcano. Its name means “spewing” or “much spreading” in the Hawaiian language (referring to its frequent outpouring of lava), but Kilauea is a shield volcano — a type of volcano usually composed almost entirely of fluid lava flows. Because the lava is so hot and fluid, it flows instead of blowing up, which means that eruptions tend to be less violent.

The first well-documented eruption of Kīlauea occurred in 1823, and since then, the volcano has been erupting more or less all the time. The volcano lies directly over the Hawaii hotspot — an area which is fed hot material directly from the mantle. In a way, the Earth’s mantle is “leaking” through Hawaii.

Kilauea volcano in Hawaii creates spectacular lava stream

The Kilauea volcano has created a dramatic “firehose” as molten lava continues to spew out hot lava and ash.

Image credits: USGS.

Kilauea is an active shield volcano in the Hawaiian Islands, and the most active of the five volcanoes that together form the island of Hawaiʻi. The volcano is constantly erupting (more or less), but sometimes it really goes overboard. When the lava reaches the water, it reacts and causes violent explosions as the one seen above. Locals, tourists, and sea captains are constantly watching the beautiful (but extremely violent phenomenon). The USGS writes:

“From the lava viewing area established by Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, you can witness Kīlauea Volcano’s ocean entry from a safe distance. With binoculars or a telephoto camera lens, spectacular views and photos are possible (as seen here)—without risking your life by entering the closed area. As lava streams into the ocean, explosive interactions between the molten lava and cool seawater hurl spatter and rock fragments skyward, often as high as the sea cliff, which is about 28 m (92 ft) high.”

A close up of the stream near the spot where it exits the tube. This view was only possible with a very high magnification lens. Image credits: USGS.

Although this isn’t generally dangerous, people are warned not to get too close to the phenomenon. However, despite signs and roped-off areas, people still cross the boundaries and go to the cliff edge. Geologists are also worried about the cracks around the cliff, which may lead to a collapse. USGS geologist Janet Babb explains:

“The seaward side of that crack could fall away,” Babb, who works at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, said. “That is of great concern because if it does, it’s going to drop a lot of hot rock into the water and hot rock mixing with cool seawater makes for explosive interactions.”

This thermal image shows the Kamokuna ocean entry. Two plumes of hot (scalding) water branch out from the entry point. The lava stream itself is the very hot feature right of center. Just above the lava stream, about 10 meters (yards) behind the sea cliff, is a narrow line of high temperatures that appears to be a hot crack. This hot crack suggests that the sea cliff around the entry point is unstable and has the potential to collapse. Image credits: USGS.

She also warned about the dangers of lava reaching the water. This should especially be avoided.

“It’s super-heated steam laced with hydrochloric acid from the interaction with the seawater and has shards of volcanic glass,” she said. “It’s something to be avoided.”

Kīlauea’s eruptive history has been a long and active one. The oldest exposed lavas date back 2,800 years and the volcano has been erupting constantly since 1823.

Earthquake swarm indicates lava build-up at Kilauea volcanoes

Geologists are expecting increased activity on the Kilauea volcano, warning that another eruption is likely possible. It seems that lava continues to build up, as manifested through a swarm of minor earthquakes.

The lava lake within Halema’uma’u Crater at the summit of Kīlauea on February 1, 2014. Image via Kilauea Military Camp.

“The overall evolution of unrest in Kilauea’s summit area and upper rift zones in the coming weeks to months is uncertain,” the Hawaii Volcano Observatory said in a statement.

There have recently been two significant eruptions at the Kilauea volcano, including one that collapsed a crater wall, but the situation still hasn’t stabilized. Earthquake swarms have rocked the area, with two magnitude-3.0 earthquakes hitting on Saturday. This seems to indicate that highly pressurized lava is gathering up and pressing against the walls.

“The magma storage system within Kilauea is highly pressurized at this time, and future changes in the location of unrest, and the potential for eruption, could unfold quickly (in days to hours),” it said.

The lava lake in the crater reportedly fell down by 500 feet (150 meters), and this lava had to go somewhere – it’s almost certainly accumulating in an existing chamber or in an entirely new place, where it might erupt. Steven Brantley of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said that they are currently trying to use these earthquakes to anticipate when the next eruption will take place.

“We don’t know what the outcome of this activity might be. That is the challenge, is trying to interpret what this activity really means in terms of the next step for Kilauea”. He added that there is a possibility that the lava will burst out of Kilauea in a new spot.

Even if it blows up in a new spot, the risk of the eruption threatening locals is reduced, but scientists are still keeping an eye out. The area is generally closed to tourists and there are no structures nearby.

Crater wall collapse causes lava explosion in Hawaii [with video]

A crater wall collapse in a Hawaiian volcano has triggered a powerful lava explosion. The Kilauea explosion spread lava and debris around it, in a spectacular display which was caught on camera by the USGS. Material was thrown 280 feet (85 meters) up into the air.

Janet Babb, a geologist with the USGS, compared the blast to popping a champagne bottle with a hammer:

“You look at the bottle and you see the liquid, but you don’t see the gas,” she said. “There’s a lot of gas in the lava. And so, when that rock fall hits the lava lake, it’s like the moment you knock the top of the champagne bottle off and that gas is released and it hurls molten lava and rock fragments.”

Thankfully, no injuries were reported after the incident at the crater, which has been shut off to visitors. It’s the first time lava has been visible in the crater since 1982, when a fissure cracked and the volcano erupted. The last time there was a lake similar to this one was in 1974. From the early 1800s up until 1924, there was a continuous lake of lava at Kilauea summit within Halemaumau. At that time, the crater was about half the diameter of what it is now.

“As long as magma supply is elevated, we expect continued high lava lake levels accompanied by additional overflows,'” one observatory scientist noted. “We expect continued rockfalls, intermittent explosions and ash fall, and continued high levels of gas release.”

Here’s the video footage captured by the USGS:

The Kilauea  Volcano is a very active shield volcano, a product of the Hawaiian hotspot. The most recent major eruption at Kīlauea has also proved by far the longest-lived. The current Kīlauea eruption began on January 3, 1983, along the eastern rift zone, and the volcano has been considered to be active ever since. A magnitude 3.6 earthquake accompanied the explosion.

Stunning video shows lava in all its might

Even as a geologist, I can’t help myself from looking at lava with an almost childish fascination – it’s something from the depths of the Earth (literally), with the potential to destroy everything and anything in its path, and also to create new landscapes, drastically changing the surface of the Earth. In the short film aboveLance Page managed to capture the sheer force of the Kilauea volcano in all its splendor: terrifying, mesmerizing, and inspiring all at once.

“Many in Hawaii refer to the lava as ‘Pele’, the Hawaiian goddess of fire … This six and a half minute film is my best attempt at capturing what it felt like to witness molten rock slowly burning down a dense wet rainforest or to peer into a six-hundred-foot-wide lava lake at Kilauea’s summit crater. I’ve never been anywhere else on the planet that demanded as much respect and awareness for the natural environment around me. Her unexpected beauty and unsettling sense of danger were nothing short of humbling and put so much into perspective. Kilauea really did change my life.”

Lava is the molten rock expelled by a volcano during an eruption; the less silicates the lava has, the hotter it gets, and the smoother the eruptions. The relatively slow flow of the Hawaii volcanoes indicates a basic lava (as opposed to an acidic one) with a low viscosity, flowing at very high temperatures.

For more information and awesome volcano facts, read:


Stunning picture and video from the Kilauea Eruption in Hawaii

Photo by Adrian Glover.

As I was telling you just earlier, the Kilauea volcano erupted, with a fissure throwing lava up more than 20 meters towards the sky in a dazzling display of volcanic power. The Hawaii eruption took place just after one of the volcano’s floors collapsed, thus creating the necessary conditions for lava to come out to the surface. This is great news to volcanologists and volcano loves throughout the world, especially as so far no lives were threatened and no significant damage was done.


More absolutely amazing videos which I highly recommend can be found at USGS


Lava versus ocean: what happens when the two meet (awesome photo alert)

Lava, the molten rock that flows from inside the Earth, can destroy everything in its path. Water, meanwhile is like an arch nemesis of lava. So what happens when the two meet?

Image credits: Robert Cudney.

Water and fire

It’s beautiful, sure — but it’s hella dangerous. When lava enters the water, a number of things happen. It’s a very dangerous environment and you should always stay very clear of such a phenomenon — if you do happen to witness such an event, be sure to witness it from very, very far away.

For starters, the lava turns the water scalding hot, and the water swells and can spew very hot drops of water. But that’s just the start of it. If the waves of near-boiling water don’t scare you, they can also be accompanied by steam plumes and rain of hydrochloric acid and small glass particles. If you’re still not afraid, this will probably do the job: the entire lava delta can (and often does) collapse with little notice.

More common than you think

Volcanoes and water seem natural enemies, but they meet more often than you’d think. For starters, there are a lot of submarine volcanoes, but we don’t really get to witness that too often. Perhaps more common is for volcanoes on the cost to erupt and spew their lava all the way to the water.

This is especially relevant for so-called hotspot volcanoes, like the ones that former Hawai’i. Unlike other volcanoes, hotspot volcanoes are directly connected to the mantle. They typically erupt in “calmer” lava flows (again, like in Hawai’i), which has a chance of ending up in water.

The coast of Hawai’i.

So what happens when lava meets water?

It’s not so much the water itself that does things to the lava, but rather its temperature. Lava flows at extremely hot temperatures of up to 1,170 degrees Celsius (2,140 degrees Fahrenheit), gradually cooling down as it is exposed to the environment. But when it meets water, it’s forced to cool down quickly.

The lava immediately blows away some of the water, mixing with it and creating the toxic fume and droplets. As the lava cools down, it solidifies — but it doesn’t form very solid rocks. Igneous rocks that cool down slowly (in geologic time) can form large crystals, but when lava cools down quickly, it doesn’t have time to form crystals, so you just end up with a sort of black rock riddled with pieces of glass.

If you’re not sold on how awesome this phenomenon is, here are a few videos that could help change your mind.


All images of lava versus ocean in CC BY 3.0