Crater Floor Collapses at Kilauea: What Might Come Next?

By Erik Klemetti | May 1, 2018 10:29 am
The summit lava lake at Kilauea, seen on April 30, 2018. The lake level had dropped 15 meters over the weekend. USGS/HVO.

The summit lava lake at Kilauea, seen on April 30, 2018. The lake level had dropped 15 meters over the weekend. USGS/HVO.

We’ve been keeping a close watch on Kilauea over the past couple weeks and now, after weeks of high lava lake levels and inflation, events might be starting to unfold.

Yesterday, the crater floor at Pu’u O’o on the East Rift partially collapsed, suggesting that the lava that was filling in below the crater floor was draining away. This came during a bout of increased earthquakes (see below) that began mid-afternoon in Hawaii. Right after the earthquakes started, the webcams pointed at Pu’u O’o saw the floor begin to collapse and that lasted for at least a few hours, punctuated by some small explosions triggered by the collapsing rocks. By the early evening, things had settled down, but no lava was spotted in the floor of Pu’u O’o. Bad weather has obscured a lot of the events of the day, but a helicopter flight is planned for today that could reveal the extent of the collapse and any other changes.

Earthquakes at Kilauea over the past week. The large increase since April 30 is related to the collapse of the floor of the Pu'u O'o crater and inflation on the East Rift zone. USGS/HVO.

Earthquakes at Kilauea over the past week. The large increase since April 30 is related to the collapse of the floor of the Pu’u O’o crater and inflation on the East Rift zone. USGS/HVO.

UPDATE 6:30 PM EDT May 1: Hawaiian officials have closed off the popular Kalapana access to the lava flow field due to the increased chance of eruption in this eastern part of the East Rift zone. Additionally, USGS scientists weren’t able to view Pu’u O’o crater today due to ash and poor weather, which they say suggest the explosion and collapse are continuing. The webcam pointed into the Pu’u O’o crater has ash on the lens as well (but clouds filling the crater).

Much of the East Rift is now experiencing deformation, apparently all the way out to Highway 130 — over 30 kilometers (20 miles; see below) to the east! With this concentration of small earthquakes and inflation to the east past Pu’u O’o, that would be the place to expect any new eruption to start. However, in their most recent statement, scientists from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory make it clear that there is no guarantee that a new eruption on the East Rift zone is in the cards due to this activity.

Map of the East Rift zone on Kilauea, showing Pu'u O'o and Highway 130 to the east. The space between the two is where earthquakes and deformation are currently occurring. USGS/HVO.

Map of the East Rift zone on Kilauea, showing Pu’u O’o and Highway 130 to the east. The space between the two is where earthquakes and deformation are currently occurring. USGS/HVO.

A potential hint that something was up was noted on the morning of April 30. The summit lava lake in the Halema’uma’u crater was seen for the first time since prior to the weekend (bad weather) and it had dropped 15 meters (~49 feet; see top). With the lava overflows that were happening last week, this suggests that lava was draining from the summit area over the weekend in the subsurface tube system — and deflation of the summit supported that idea as well.

So, the waiting will continue, but watch those webcams to see if something big happens. The sequence of the collapse of the floor at Pu’u O’o and the drop of the lake level at the summit, combined with earthquakes and inflation on the East Rift were all part of the prelude to the 2011 Kamoamoa Fissure eruption … but time will tell if this is leading to an eruption this time around.

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  • Gianluigi Grimaldi Maliyar

    I don’t think I’ve seen any Pu’u O’o designation on that map. Is that the correct map to be posted?

    • mjkbk

      Yeah, I noticed that, too. If it’s there, it’s not labelled…..but the location is to the northeast of Napau Crater.

      You’d think an eruptive center that’s been around for 35 years would be a bit more prominently marked on USGS maps……

  • Jaeger
  • Michael Ross

    What’s significant to me is that Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater floor has collapsed, an intrusion is occurring downrift – but the summit lava lake hasn’t fallen; it had dropped, yes, as part of a normal DI cycle, but currently it is *still* rising somewhat from where it was yesterday and is closer to overflowing again. HVO: “The summit lava lake remains at a high level. Overall, the summit lava lake has shown no response to activity in the middle and lower East Rift Zone.”

    This suggests to me the possibility of some breakdown in the conduit to Puʻu ʻŌʻō, and, just possibly, the establishment of two, less connected, magmatic systems – one feeding Puʻu ʻŌʻō and the ERZ more directly, bypassing Halemaumau. It also suggests we may be living in interesting times.

  • http://lavapix.com/ Bryan Lowry / lavapix.com

    The 2011 Kamoamoa eruption was spectacular. One of my favorite eruptions I ever hiked to. It seems like Puu Oo had way less lava stored in it this time.

    • Jaeger

      1km long crack west (up rift) of Pu`u O`o; only a small amount of lava/spatter, but lots of steam:

      https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/kilauea/multimedia_chronology.html

      • http://lavapix.com/ Bryan Lowry / lavapix.com

        Thanks… yes, I knew about that. Basically a little spittle compared to 2011. This time the magma headed mostly east. But, something could clog and the new crack could erupt again. That’s been a very unstable area of Puu Oo for decades.

  • Jaeger

    “Driving past Opihikao on highway 130 strong smell of sulfur” — Ikaika Marzo (Facebook.)

  • Chris DeVries

    Seriously, what’s up with the freaking SPAM detection on this site. I edit a post a couple of times and it pops up as needing to be approved, or worse, flagged as spam. Erik, please delete the duplicate post.

    Within the last 2-3 hours, a new eruption has started in the Leilani
    Estates, Puna. Lava level in Halemaumau has dropped a bit in response.

    I
    had a post held back because it was “detected as spam” earlier today
    that posited this exact scenario: “[What we’re likely to see as a result
    of these changes] is a new vent…somewhere in Puna. This could be VERY BAD for people living there, akin to the Parícutin eruption in Mexico last century. It would involve more lava flows and less Strombolian/Vulcanian activity, but there is a potential for fountaining, and lava flows could pave over hundreds or even thousands of hectares of land, depending on how long-lived the eruption is, the
    flux of lava involved, and where it happens (since topography could
    either direct the flows quickly and painlessly to the ocean, or allow
    them to spread out across a LOT of land).”

    I was actually hoping for a submarine eruption at the very end of the ERZ (which is underwater). This could be pretty cool, but whatever.

    The post from HVO says:

    “An eruption has commenced in the Leilani Estates subdivision in the lower East Rift Zone of Kilauea Volcano. Shortly before 5 pm, lava was confirmed at the surface in the eastern end of the subdivision. Hawaii County Civil Defense is on scene and coordinating needed response including evacuation of a portion of the Leilani subdivision.”

    I hope my previous post is released from jail (don’t know why it was flagged). The earthquakes that preceded this eruption were all REALLY shallow (some were less than 500 meters), so I think it was only a matter of time before the intrusion became a full-on eruption. Let’s hope that Madam Pele is kind to the people of Puna.

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Rocky Planet

Rocky Planet covers all the geologic events that made and will continue to shape our planet. From volcanoes to earthquakes to gold to oceans to other solar systems, I discuss what is intriguing and illuminating about the rocks beneath our feet and above our heads. Ever wonder what volcanoes are erupting? How tsunamis form and where? What rocks can tell us about ancient environments? How the Earth might change in the future? You'll find these answers and more on Rocky Planet.
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