Kīlauea, Hawai’i, puts on a ‘once-in-a-century’ show

Skilling, Ian and McGarvie, Dave (2018). Kīlauea, Hawai’i, puts on a ‘once-in-a-century’ show. Geology Today, 34(4) pp. 155–160.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/gto.12236


Kīlauea is the youngest of five basaltic shield volcanoes on the island of Hawai’i. It is located to the south-east of the much larger Mauna Loa volcano, and rose above sea level about 100 ka ago. Kīlauea is one of the most monitored, and arguably the best understood volcanoes on Earth, providing scientists with a good understanding of its current eruption, in which magma rises from depth and is stored beneath its 4 × 3.2 km summit caldera in an underground reservoir. The reservoir is connected to a lava lake within a crater called Halema’uma’u, which is situated on the floor of the caldera. When magma drains from the summit area it travels in underground conduits and emerges on the flanks of the volcano at a rift zone, where it erupts through fissures. The magma is sometimes stored in other reservoirs along the way. This link between summit magma storage and fissure eruptions on the flanks has occurred thousands of times at many Hawai’ian volcanoes. The current eruptive episode is, however, a ‘once-in-a-century’ show, because it is the first time since 1924 that fissure-fed lava flow eruptions have been accompanied by significant explosive eruptions within Halema’uma’u Crater. This gives scientists a unique opportunity to use modern methods to understand exactly how such hazardous explosions happen at Kīlauea, a volcano that receives about 2 million visitors a year.

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