Thursday, May 3, 2018

Kilauea Heats Up [UPDATED 8-6-2018 ]

Hawaii is a land of sea and fire. From the Northwestern islands to the Southeastern, it is a chain of magmatic glory. I currently reside on Oahu, the most populous of Hawaii's islands, in its capitol of Honolulu. Honolulu is surrounded with relatively young volcanism, from the world-famous Diamond Head and Koko Crater tuff rings, to the slightly lesser known features of Punch Bowl and Kailua Volcano. Anywhere you look, you realize these islands are volcanic.

On Maui, Haleakala volcano, which is still considered to be potentially active, rises above the clouds, revealing a Mars-like landscape, save for the famed silver sword plants - endemic only to this mountain. Evidence of volcanism, as recently as perhaps 300 years ago, is everywhere, from the black sand beaches on the road to Hana, or evidenced in the hundreds of waterfalls carved into layered basalt flows, now overgrown by vines and ferns.

But it is Kilauea, next to its mammoth neighbor, Mauna Loa (larger from sea floor to mountain top than any mountain on earth, and man more times by sheer volume), which is the most famous of all volcanoes of Hawaii. And it is putting on quite a show right now.

The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, has been monitoring the Big Island of Hawai'i since its inception in 1912, and is the oldest of USGS Observatories.

Kilauea has, for the last month or more, displayed a great deal of activity, ranging from the lava lake at Halema'uma'u summit crater overflowing, to the caldera floor of Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater collapsing, and sending magma East and West down subterranean rift fractures.

Today, HVO and USGS put neighborhoods and schools on alert, to be ready for a possible eruption along the Southeast Rift Zone of Kilauea, extending form Puʻu ʻŌʻō to the Eastern tip of Hawai'i. 

Residents in these areas are advised to ready any emergency supplies and kits in easily moveable containers, and prepare in case they are told to evacuate. Local Hawaiian radio stations are broadcasting updates, and urging residents in affected areas to remain tuned to those stations in order to receive immediate updates.

HVO's Facebook page has been cautious in addressing the danger to the local population and neighborhoods, correctly stating that magma intrusions often do not result in an eruption, and that it is impossible to predict well ahead of time when and where an eruption will occur. However it does clearly state that the heightened attention to the area of earthquakes and deformation is currently a highly monitored situation.

The situation with Mauna Loa, the towering NW neighbor to Kilauea has been on Yellow Alert (watch) status for nearly a year now, due to an inflating magma chamber, detectable uplift, and an increase in seismicity beyond 'normal background levels'. 

The magma chamber of Mauna Loa is believed to have begin inflating some time in 2008 and continued on a steady pace ever since. The magma chambers of Mauna Loa and Kilauea are not believed to be connected, however it is theorized that pressure changes in either can affect the behavior in the other.

The current situation at Kilauea should be closely followed by both its residents, and by the world, as Kilauea serves as a constant reminder that Earth is very much alive, and on occasion, very angry.

*****UPDATE 5/4/2018******

Yesterday was marked by large quakes. A 5.0 quake struck in the vicinity of Puʻu ʻŌʻō, and caused further collapse of the crater. A large, pinkish ash plume was observed. Shortly after, around 4:30pm, a fissure broke out in the Leilani Heights district, issuing lava flows and forcing the community to evacuate.

As of right now (1:30pm HST) a 6.9 quake struck the South Eastern flank of Kilauea. No tsunami warning has been issued.


Google Earth screenshot with USGS overlay.

The situation is rapidly changing and highly dynamic on the Big Island. Quakes are occuring over the entire South Eastern flank of the volcano, along with deep and large quakes just South of Puʻu ʻŌʻō, and heightened microseismicity at Halema'uma'u crater. 

It is my opinion that Kilauea will probably have some changes to Halema'uma'u and Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater relating to magma chamber drainage, and that the Eastern Rift Zone is at a high likelihood of more fissure breakouts, and possible land instability. Time will tell.

At this time Hawaii's Gov. Ige has mobilized the National Guard, and the Red Cross is on scene helping evacuees. No deaths or injuries have been reported at this time.

The main hazards to the areas are volcanic gas (SO2/CO2), lava and forest fires, and ground instability. Several structures have already been lost in the Leilani Heights/Puna area.

Stay tuned as updates of this article will be frequent.

*****UPDATE 5/11/2017*****

The number of fissures spewing gas and lava in the Leilani Estates on the Big Island of Hawai'i has stopped at 15 as of 5/9/2018. The lava has stopped erupting for now, but is expected to resume any time. The apparent lava dike has migrated further NE of Leilani, and is expected to continue until another fissure or cinder eruption occurs.

Meanwhile at the Halema'uma'u summit crater at Kilauea, the lava lake which has been in existence since Kilauea's 2008 eruption continues to drop. This has cause USGS officials to close Hawaii Volcanoes National Park out of fear that if the lava drops below the water table, a phreatic (steam driven) eruption could occur. This has happened before at Halema'uma'u. The same is possible with the Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater, although less likely.

Subsidence quakes and volcanic tremor related to magma movement continue under the summit, and aftershocks from 5/4's 6.9 magnitude tremor continue, but are diminishing in frequency.

The main focus of activity now seems to be entirely at the East Rift Zone.

Hawaii Civil defense has urged all residents from Kalapana to the Eastern tip of the Big Island to be prepared to evacuate at a moments notice, as S02, C02, and H2S gases, coupled with the possibility of lava, ash, and acid rain, may make the area too dangerous to stay at in the near future.

Governor Ige has signed a request for Federal Emergency to be declared and it has been sent to President Trump. Damages so far have included about 34 structures lost, the majority of which have been houses, with costs estimated upwards of $3 million so far.

The Puna Geothermal Venture, a hydrothermal plant just N of Leilani Estates moved several tons of pentane gas from its facilities as the plant seems to exist on the exact vector the fissures have been erupting on. This was a big concern for residents who were worried that the gas might explode and create more problems, but at this time, those fears are now taken care of.

On the rest of the Hawaiian islands, a haze of vog (volcanic fog) has settled over the horizon. On Oahu, where I live, you can no longer see the Western mountain as it is obscured by a bluish haze. The vog is a serious irritant to those with lung issues such as Asthma and COPD, and doctors are urging residents to remain aware and take appropriate precautions to reduce exposure if possible.

*****UPDATE 5/16/2018*****

The summit crater of Halema'uma'u has begun emitting ash plumes upwards of 12,000 feet, prompting HVO to raise the volcanic alert level to RED. This advisory is intended to warn air traffic that ash is reaching levels which may be hazardous to aircraft, and to avoid the area.

Meanwhile the fissure count is at about 21, with 'Fissure 6 and fissure 20' currently the only fissures with active lava flows. A great interactive map that is kept up to date with the current fissure activity can be found here.

The summit eruptions at Halema'uma'u are related to rockfall and water/gas explosions deep within the now-draining lava lake. USGS and HVO are watching this closely as the potential for a much bigger eruption grows more likely. If the lava lake drops below the water table, HVO has said that this could cause a large phreatic eruption which would dwarf the current activity.

All communities to the S and SE of the fissure swarm have been urged to evacuate, and vacation rentals have ceased in the area due to the hazardous gas and ash, and the potential for more lava flows. Access to Leilani Heights is cut off, with residents allowed to return for a few hours during the day to check on their houses or pack up more things.

The fissure swarm continues to be restricted to a NE/SW vector and so far has not deviated from this. It is likely more fissures will open to the NE toward highway 132 and Kapoho. The largest lava flow so far has been issued from Fissure 17. The lava is moving at about 20 yards per hour in an Easterly direction towards the ocean, however observations have indicated that this flow is slowing down, and is unlikely to reach the ocean at this time.

Air quality for the area is now formally listed as 'unhealthy' as vog (volcanic fog) levels rise and the wind dies down, coupled with intermittent ash emissions from the summit. People with breathing problems are advised to stay indoors and close their windows, and use an air filtration system if available, as the sulfur content in the air can worsen conditions such as Asthma or COPD.

Despite the rush to buy face masks, these do not help protect the user from gas, only ash particulates. People are simply advised to leave the area if they are being negatively affected by the poor air quality.


*****UPDATE 5/17/2018*****

Early this morning at approximately 4am HST, the Kilauea summit caldera of Halema'uma'u had an apparent phreatic eruption, and an ash cloud was ejected upwards of 30,000 feet. Kilauea is still at aviation code RED, and poses a risk to aircraft due to ash.

The fissure swarm continues to be active, and more cracks have developed and widened in the last 24 hours, however the only fissures currently issuing lava spatter are now number 13, 16 and 17.

Local officials are advising that anyone downwind of the ashfall stay indoors unless necessary. Masks will help with ash, but not gas, and air quality is still a problem for people near the volcano.

*****UPDATE 5/18/2018*****

Today marked an increase in activity at the summit, and reactivation of fissures, plus a couple of new ones.

At current, 7 fissures are now active, and pahoehoe lava flows are now being issued (much more fluid lava). I did expect this to occur, since the initial lava flows were blocky and more solidified, which suggested the magma was a little older than the hotter flows that are now being issued.

Subsidence at the caldera is now in full swing, and the former lava lake pit at Halema'uma'u has now nearly tripled in diameter, along with ring fractures growing near the collapse pit. This increases the likelihood of rockfall-generated ash eruptions.



Early this morning, another large phreatic (steam-driven) explosion occurred at Halema'uma'u, and sent another ash plume upwards of 30,000 feet.

The RED aviation alert remains in effect.

On the East Rift Zone, fissures 21, 15, 20W, 20E, 16 and 17 are active or reactivated, and are issuing lava and gas. 40 structures have now been confirmed destroyed (mostly homes) and several more are currently threatened.

No new fissures have opened past the NE trending fissure swarm past fissure 17, but I expect that to change at any time as the magma advances to the NE point of the Big Island near Kapoho.

GPS deformation data clearly indicate that magma is still being fully supplied to the East Rift Zone, and that the magma is still on a NE trend. I suspect the next breakout will occur near or just South of Kapoho road if this trend continues.

I also expect that erupting lava will become more fluid as the eruption progresses.

Given the summit subsidence and the cessation of major activity at Puʻu ʻŌʻō, I expect that the East Rift Zone will probably remain active for months, if not years, which of course is bad news for the residents in the area. It seems that magma has found an easier path to the East Rift zone than it currently has to the summit, which means that this eruptive activity could remain a constant threat in the area for quite some time, until at least the lava channel cools or is blocked to the point the summit begins to inflate again.

*****UPDATE 5/22/2018*****

The eruption at the East Rift Zone continues.

The latest major developments are that the fissure 20 system is now steadily issuing a fountain of lava that has now reached the coast after crossing Highway 137. Laze (a noxious mixture of hydrochloric acid and glassy ash particles) is being steadily emitted and making conditions far too dangerous for tourists to view the flow.

A live camera of the most active vent can be viewed here.

USGS/HVO has produced a very nice timeline of the events here.

Changes at the summit caldera of Halema'uma'u continue to develop, and minor ash eruptions continue.


Satellite Images show expansion of the former lava lake crater, and subsidence area to the E.

The activity so far appears to be changing to a much more fluid eruption with faster flowing lavas and pahohoe flows.

The Puna Geothermal Venture power plant to the Northwest of Fissure 6 is now threatened by slowly advancing lava flows, and has apparently had a warehouse on its property destroyed by lava.

As stated in my last update, I do not expect that the eruption will end any time soon, and more fissures and lava flows should be expected as the lava becomes fresher, and flows faster from the source.


*****UPDATE 5/25/2018*****

The eruption at the East Rift zone continues with new lava ponding in the Leilani Estates subdivision, and active lava flows entering the ocean. The fissures in Leilani Estates that reactivated and are ponding lava are 8, 2, 7, 21, 14, 3, and 4, with fissures 6 and 22 producing the flows reaching the ocean.

Updated flow maps can be viewed here.

A new lobe of lava entered the ocean to the SW of the other active ocean entries, adding new coastline and emitting more 'laze' (a mixture of lava and haze).

At the summit, Halema'uma'u crater continues with intermittent rock collapse events and ash eruptions.

You can view live cameras here.

The current lava flow activity is close to the fissure eruption of 1955 in terms of land covered, and I expect that it will eventually surpass it in the coming weeks and months if activity continues as expected.

No new fissures have activated past the NE tip of the fissure swarm yet, and earthquake activity seems to have stopped advancing NE, so for now the locus of major activity is restricted to Leilani Estates, and fissures 6 and 22. Fissure 17 is still apparently weakly active, but is now labeled as inactive on the USGS website.

Live lava cams of fissure 22 can be found on Youtube, CNN, and other sites, and I highly recommend the viewing experience.

*****UPDATE 6/5/2018*****

The fissure eruption at the East Rift Zone continues.

Currently, Fissure 8 is the only actively venting fissure, however it is issuing large amounts of lava, and the current flow has inundated Kapoho and Vacationland, wiping it from the map. Lava has flowed into the famed Green Lake in Kapoho crater, and Kapoho Bay is now no longer in existence.

Highway 137 is now completely inaccessible, as well as highway 132. Nearly the entire neighborhood of Kapoho has been covered by lava, and back at Leilani Estates, about half of the neighborhood blocks are gone.

At Halema'uma'u summit crater, large quakes ranging from 5.5-5.6 have been accompanied by explosive events, issuing minor ashfall. Subsidence of the summit caldera continues, and is causing some damage to roads, and HVO's Jaggar Museum.

The home of Hawaii Island mayor Harry Kim was also destroyed.


Updated lava flow map. Red dots indicate the flow fronts, as seen last. The map is updated daily.

The lava flow has surpassed the area of the 1955 eruption, and is covering a portion of the 1960 flow at the Eastern tip of the island. 

Several people and pets were rescued by helicopter after either refusing to evacuate, or being caught unaware that lava had closed off access to all roads. 

Some arrests have been made at checkpoints, where drivers have ignored police and emergency personnel.
 People are advised to listen to authorities and obey any evacuation orders. It is unsafe to be anywhere near the lava and gas, and now that there is a new ocean entry where Kapoho used to be, laze is again a hazard.

The eruption at this point shows no sign of slowing down. Additional fissures, or reactivation of old fissures remains a big possibility. Additional loss of property is also likely.

The eruption has begun to negatively affect tourism to the Big Island, with the closure of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and several tourist lodging areas now inaccessible, a sizable loss of revenue is expected.

***** UPDATE 6/22/2018*****




The eruption at Kilauea's East Rift zone continues with lava entering the ocean just south of the former Kapoho Bay and former location of Vacationland. The two towns have been almost completely wiped out, displacing thousands of Hawaiians.

FEMA has set up disaster aid camps, and are catering to those that lost their houses, as well as the chronically homeless from the area.

The area of the lava eruption, and around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park near the summit are off limits. Many tourists have already been arrested for ignoring the blockades while trying to get photos of the eruption. Please obey law enforcement and emergency personnel, the area is still extremely dangerous with poisonous gas, fast flowing lava, and an unpredictable fissure system, not to mention dangerous instability at the Halema'uma'u summit.

At the summit, almost daily eruptions that generate 5.2-5.4 magnitude quakes have sent diffuse ash plumes 1000-2000 feet above the crater, with the ash mostly heading to the SW. Collapse of the caldera is now threatening the famous Jaggar Museum, and the building was cleared of all of its artifacts and exhibits.

USGS personnel say that the museum and the HVO is 'slipping into the caldera', and it is likely that the museum will remain closed until to does. Structural damage caused by cracks and bombardment by ash and rocks, as well as cracking to the observation deck have rendered the building too dangerous.

The collapse of the former lava lake has turned the crater pit from a 12 acre crater to a more than 130 acre crater, and the crater grows daily. Hundreds of quakes are occurring daily at the summit due to the collapse. During the span of the eruption, over 10,000 quakes have occurred so far.

This is likely to continue for as long as the summit continues to subside. There is no way to predict how long this will occur. USGS theorizes that the East Rift Zone eruption might just be the tip of the iceberg (lava-berg?), and that it is just beginning, as summit magma has not yet been erupted from the rift zone.

It is likely that this eruption will continue in its current phase for years - not months.

***** UPDATE 8/6/2018 *****

Seismic activity at the summit (Halema'uma'u) has decreased to low levels (only about 6 or so quakes today) and USGS HVO reports that deformation has slowed as well. Fissure 8 continues to spatter and issue lava, although at a greatly decreased rate. At Puʻu ʻŌʻō, elevated rates of CO2 emissions have now been reported.

What this means is unclear, although it is theorized that perhaps the channel to fissure 8 from the summit may be narrowing or cooling, which could cause Puʻu ʻŌʻō to reactivate, and eventually, inflation may return to the summit crater. It is too soon to tell however, and the fissures and collapse events could resume at any time.


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