New Eruption Started in Leilani Estates on Kilauea

By Erik Klemetti | May 4, 2018 7:29 am
The new fissure eruption in Leilani Estates on the far downslope of the East Rift zone of Kilauea, seen on May 3, 2018. USGS/HVO.

The new fissure eruption in Leilani Estates on the far downslope of the East Rift zone of Kilauea, seen on May 3, 2018. USGS/HVO.

Yesterday, a new eruption started on the slopes of Kilauea. Far down the East Rift zone, in the Leilani Estates subdivision, fissures began to open yesterday. By the time evening hit, lava was spattering from the cracks and short lava flows that travelled ten meters (30 feet) soon followed. Check out the USGS video of the eruption after it had just started on May 3.

UPDATE: If you want to see and hear some impressive video of the eruption, check out this – the lava spattering from the fissure is amazing. (Hat tip to Janine Krippner for this link).

UPDATE: Although I don’t condone flying drones in this situation, here is some great footage from a drone of the new eruption. The splattering lava and slow, short lava flows are clearly seen.

Scientists from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory flew over the new eruption soon after it started and captured pictures and video of the eruption. The first thing to notice is that the area has not seen an eruption in a long time. The landscape is forested and, unfortunately, also developed. Houses are sprinkled throughout the trees in this subdivision, and much like the homes at Kalapana, these homes are now in direct danger of being destroyed by lava flows. Luckily, these lava flows are sluggish so far, so no people are in danger and the subdivision is currently being evacuated. The subdivision has over 700 building and 1700 residents. Looking at the USGS map of Kilauea, it appears that there haven’t been eruptions in this part of the East Rift zone since 1955 and most of the flows in the area date from the 1840s and 1790s.

UPDATE 9:45 PM May 4: A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the East Rift zone at about ~11:30 AM in Hawai’i. The earthquake was about 16 kilometers to the southwest of Leilani Estates, where the new eruption started yesterday. This is a large earthquake for Kilauea and its shallow depth (5 km) suggests it is related to the new injections of magma into the east rift. The eruption is ongoing at Leilani Estates, with at least 5 fissures erupting at least some magma and significant releases of sulfur dioxide. As evacuations continue, shelters have been set up for residents and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has been closed. At least 2 homes have been destroyed by the eruption in Leilani Estates already. I talked to The Atlantic about the eruption earlier today as well.

The M6.9 earthquakes appears to have triggered another ash-rich explosion at Pu’u O’o as well:

The fissures appeared to have stopped emitting lava after a few hours. This does not mean the eruption is over as more magma could be moving through the tube system under Kilauea’s East Rift. Usually, the new eruptions follow a sequence of inflation and earthquakes, then fumes, then fissures forming. The lava eruption so far has been much less dramatic than the 2011 Kamoamoa fissure eruption, but this could change.

Earlier in the day, a magnitude 5 earthquake hit the East Rift zone, no doubt related to the intrusion happening on the rift. The result of that earthquake was an ashy plume from Pu’u O’o and after a later overflight of the crater, a deep hole where there was the crater floor and lava lake. This suggests that much of the lava that was supporting and supplying the eruption at Pu’u O’o may have drained as the Leilani Estates eruption was beginning. The question is whether the lava erupting far downslope is from Pu’u O’o (22 kilometers away) or from the summit (over 40 kilometers away). This really betrays just how big Kilauea is!

The collapsed floor of the Pu'u O'o crater after the M5 earthquake on May 3, 2018. USGS/HVO.

The collapsed floor of the Pu’u O’o crater after the M5 earthquake on May 3, 2018. USGS/HVO.

The summit lava lake has definitely seen a drop in the lake level, but nothing compared to the drop that occurred prior to the 2011 Kamoamoa fissure eruption. This will be watched closely to see if it continues to drop, suggesting magma moving in the tube system under the East Rift to feed a potential prolonged Leilani Estates eruption.

I’ll update this post as I have more information or events change.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Rocky Planet, Science, Science Blogs
  • Uncle Al

    Gaia yawned. Will she go back to sleep or prepare for a date? It is not a catastrophe. It is the normal progression of things. Will FEMA fly First Class to Hawai’i for “analysis”? Studies?

    • Mel Carbon

      Does a bear poop in the woods?

  • Chris DeVries

    I am watching all of this with interest. Because the summit lava lake is still at near-surface levels, clearly the path the magma is taking to SE Puna is not able to handle large volumes yet. The pressure levels in the volcano remain very high because of the years of extension/inflation, and there hasn’t been any significant contraction/deflation yet. I think there are three possibilities to watch for. The first is the establishment of a reliable dike supplying these new eruption sites, allowing the eruption to continue at its current (or an increased pace), leading to the destruction of hundreds of homes. The second is breakouts in other areas that relieve more of the pressure that’s built up – there were shallow, small earthquakes all over Puna over the last few days, and there is clearly liquid, intruded magma in other places low on the ERZ that could make its way to the surface – the current eruption sites will eventually seal up as new vents open elsewhere (probably within a week or two). The third is a short-lived eruption now at the current sites – this eruption lasts a few days and ends (due to changes underground blocking the path the magma is taking to Puna), and the inflation continues apace until there is another, new eruption somewhere else, months or years later.

    It has always impressed (and terrified) me at how, over the years since the 1970s, Kilauea has been mostly in an extensional existence – there is a LOT of magma making its way up from the mantle under this volcano, and aside from short periods of usually rapid deflation (coinciding with new eruption events), magma is always inflating the ground surface here.

  • Jaeger

    Hi Erik,

    There have been a few more moderate quakes (up to mag. 5.4) near yesterday’s 5.0 quake:

    To my untrained eye, it looks separate and distinct from the ERZ intrusion activity; it’s clustered SE (makai) from Pu`u O`o. Slumping, perhaps?

    • Jaeger

      Whoa – make that up to mag. 6.9. There’s definitely something going on.

  • Uncle Al

    M 6.9 – 16 km SW of Leilani Estates, Hawaii

    Time 2018-05-04 22:32:55 (UTC)
    Location 19.370°N 155.032°W
    Depth 5.0 km

  • Jaeger

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