Volcano Watch: Hawaiian Volcano Observatory looks forward to 2018

  • USGS photo

    The first high-definition thermal image of the Halema‘uma‘u lava lake of the new year, taken shortly after midnight Jan. 1. This camera was deployed to track the dynamic surface activity of the lava lake at the summit of Kilauea. The high-resolution image allows HVO scientists to better discern fine-scale features of the circulating, spattering and ever-changing lake surface, revealing insights into processes that drive lava lake motion. The temperature scale at right is in degrees Celsius, but the highest temperatures of exposed lava (above 1,100 C) are not discernible at this setting to preserve detail in the cooler crust and walls. Images from this camera can be seen on the HVO website at https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/webcam.html?webcam=JTcam.

With January’s “Wolf Moon” illuminating Kilauea Caldera from above and the Halema‘uma‘u lava lake glowing below, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory looks forward to another year of investigating the island’s magnificent, active volcanoes.

Not surprisingly, 2018 will see additions and improvements to our monitoring and research toolkit.


Right off the bat, in early January, HVO will work with colleagues from the University of Cambridge to use a portable radar system to study the Halema‘uma‘u lava lake. Under a research permit from the National Park Service, the system will be installed on the rim of Halema‘uma‘u and trained on the surface of the lava lake.

Radar has been used at the Erebus lava lake in Antarctica, but this will be the first time radar is used to measure the Halema‘uma‘u lava lake. The objective is to provide a fine-scale movie of lake motion to help us better understand processes such as lake circulation, degassing and crustal formation and destruction.

Combining radar imagery and results with other monitoring data, such as seismicity and gas flux, might provide new insights into the reasons for the rise and fall of the lava lake. Radar also might prove helpful in providing HVO a real-time lava level tracking tool, something we do now with thermal web camera imagery.

Speaking of thermal pictures, HVO recently deployed a new, high-definition thermal camera on the rim of Halema‘uma‘u to augment our long record of infrared imagery of the lava lake. The new camera provides images at much higher resolution than the older model, which, coincidentally, just gave up the ghost after eight years of steady service in the corrosive gas plume.

The new high-def camera provides unprecedented clarity in seeing small features on the surface of the lava lake in the thermal infrared: striations emanating from spreading centers, variable temperatures across the crustal plates and even wrinkles and small bubbles on the surface of the crust.

You can see images from this camera on the HVO website at https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/webcam.html?webcam=JTcam.

Turning to Mauna Loa, a new multi-gas monitoring system, designed and built by our partners at the USGS-Volcano Emissions Project, is riding out its first winter high on the slopes of the massive, restless volcano. This installation helps us watch for changes in temperature next to a major fumarole along with hydrogen sulfide, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide and water vapor.

A co-located meteorological station also records temperature and wind speed.

This is the second high-altitude, real-time gas monitoring system on Mauna Loa; the other one has been purring along on the floor of Moku‘aweoweo (caldera atop Mauna Loa) since its last tuneup in 2015.

Also on the gas front, HVO is working to upgrade the sulphur dioxide (SO2) spectrometer array that monitors emissions from the Halema‘uma‘u lava lake. A goal of 2018 is to share more of these SO2 data with the public on our website. Stay tuned.

These are but a few of the activities ahead for HVO staff and collaborating scientists in 2018.

As always, we will continue to publish daily and weekly updates of activity at Kilauea and Mauna Loa, respectively, and populate our website with public domain images and movies of volcanic activity and HVO’s fieldwork.

In closing, don’t forget January is Volcano Awareness Month. The next few weeks offer terrific opportunities to meet HVO scientists and learn more about Hawaiian volcanoes.

Join us this week for a talk about Kilauea Volcano’s ongoing East Rift Zone eruption in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Tuesday; a presentation about Kilauea’s 1955 lower Puna eruption on Monday and Tuesday at Lyman Museum in Hilo; and a “talk story” event Jan. 13 at the University of Hawaii at Hilo focused on Mauna Loa.

Details about these talks and others throughout the month are posted on HVO’s website (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/hvo/), or you can email askHVO@usgs.gov or call 808-967-8844 for more information.

Volcano activity updates

This past week, Kilauea Volcano’s summit lava lake level fluctuated with summit inflation and deflation, ranging about 28-48 meters (92-157 feet) below the vent rim. On the East Rift Zone, the 61g lava flow remained active downslope of Pu‘u ‘O‘o, with scattered breakouts on the pali and coastal plain, but no ocean entry. The 61g flows do not pose an immediate threat to nearby communities.

Mauna Loa is not erupting. Rates of deformation and seismicity remain above long-term background levels, but rates are decreased from earlier in the year. Similar decreases occurred in the past during the ongoing period of unrest; it is uncertain if these lower rates will persist or pick up again in the near future. Small-magnitude earthquakes occurred beneath the summit caldera and upper Southwest Rift Zone at depths less than 5 kilometers (3 miles). A few deeper earthquakes were scattered beneath the volcano’s southeast and west flanks at depths of 5-20 kilometers (3-12 miles). GPS and InSAR measurements continue to show deformation related to inflation of a magma reservoir beneath the summit and upper Southwest Rift Zone. No significant changes in volcanic gas emissions were measured.

No earthquakes were reported felt on Hawaii Island this past week.


Visit the HVO website (http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov) for past Volcano Watch articles, Kilauea daily eruption updates and other volcano status reports, current volcano photos, recent earthquakes, and more; call 967-8862 for a Kilauea summary update; email questions to askHVO@usgs.gov.

Volcano Watch (http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/volcanowatch/) is a weekly article and activity update written by U.S. Geological Survey`s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and colleagues.