Volcano Watch: Keeping informed about Hawaiian volcanoes is the first step to preparedness

  • C. PARCHETA/USGS photo

    Spectacular aerial view of Kilauea Volcano’s East Rift Zone lava flows advancing over Pulama pali in mid-December 2017. As surface lava flows moved through the center kipuka (forested area) on the pali, smoke rose from the burning vegetation. Gases emitted from Pu‘u ‘O‘o, the source of the 61g lava flow, can be seen in the distance above the smoke from the burning kipuka. Mauna Loa, left, and Mauna Kea, right, are visible in the far distance. If you look carefully in front of Mauna Loa, you can see the gas plume rising above Halema‘uma‘u at the summit of Kilauea. Capturing the summit and East Rift Zone eruptions in one photo is a rare sight.

With recent attention focused on the need to be prepared for all hazards, this week’s Volcano Watch offers ways to stay informed about Hawaiian volcanoes and earthquakes.

Today’s smartphones and 24/7 news coverage provide an ever-increasing number of ways to follow what’s happening in the world of natural hazards, including volcanoes and earthquakes.


For some, this barrage of information is challenging. But others might argue that offering hazard information in a variety of ways reaches a broader audience more quickly and efficiently.

Whatever your preference, there are several ways Hawaii residents, visitors and public safety officials, as well as volcano fans around the globe, can follow what’s happening at Hawaiian volcanoes.

Let’s review the options to find what works for you.

First and foremost, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory website (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/hvo) is available 24/7 for people with internet access. On the website, you can find daily eruption updates for Kilauea and weekly updates for Mauna Loa. There also are links to photographs, videos, maps, webcams, monitoring data, news releases, frequently asked questions and much more.

Updates about Hawaiian volcanoes, HVO’s weekly “Volcano Watch” articles, and other volcano postings also can be followed via social media, including Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/USGSVolcanoes/) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/USGSVolcanoes).

If HVO’s website and internet searches do not yield the information you’re seeking, you can email askHVO@usgs.gov to inquire about Hawaiian volcanoes and earthquakes. HVO strives to answer all askHVO email inquiries.

For people who want information sent to them directly and automatically, day or night, the U.S. Geological Survey offers two notification services: one for volcanoes and one for earthquakes. Hawaii residents interested in rapid notifications about volcanic and seismic activity are encouraged to sign up for both (more than 11,000 subscribers currently receive HVO notices).

The USGS Volcano Notification Service is a free, customizable email subscription service that delivers notifications of significant volcanic activity directly to your inbox or cellphone. You can sign up for this service at https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/vns2/.

With the VNS, you can choose from various types of notifications — updates (daily, weekly or monthly), status reports, volcano activity notices and/or information statements. You also can select whether you want to receive notices only from HVO about specific Hawaiian volcanoes and/or notices about other U.S. volcanoes in the Cascades, Alaska, California and at Yellowstone.

The USGS Earthquake Notification Service is a similar subscription service for information about earthquakes that occur in Hawaii and elsewhere in the world. The ENS can be customized to deliver messages about earthquakes of particular magnitudes, at specified times and via your preferred method (email or text). You can sign up for this free service at https://earthquake.usgs.gov/ens/.

Not everyone is connected to the internet. For those folks, tuning into local radio stations or watching your favorite Hawaii television news source are good ways to keep informed about important changes at Hawaiian volcanoes. This is especially true during volcanic and earthquake emergencies, when Hawaii County Civil Defense proactively issues messages via public media about any situation that could impact public safety.

HVO also maintains short, recorded telephone messages about Kilauea’s recent eruption activity and Mauna Loa’s current status. Call 808-967-8862 (for daily Kilauea updates) or 808-967-8866 (for weekly Mauna Loa updates) at any time to hear these messages.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park also provides online information through its “What’s going on with the volcano?” webpage (https://www.nps.gov/havo/planyourvisit/lava2.htm), which includes links to HVO updates as well as National Park Service and USGS photos and videos. This webpage also provides visitor information about viewing lava safely.

Volcano Awareness Month — observed each January, during which HVO scientists offer programs about Hawaiian volcanoes — is a great way to stay informed. Details about upcoming events are posted on HVO’s website or you can email askHVO@usgs.gov or call 808-967-8844 for more information.

Recently, Kilauea Volcano’s two ongoing eruptions have been relatively steady, but long-time volcano watchers know this could change at any time. An eruption of Mauna Loa is not imminent, but it is an active volcano that will erupt again.

We hope this review of how to find information about Hawaiian volcanoes will help everyone be ready when changes occur.

Volcano activity updates

This past week, Kilauea Volcano’s summit lava lake level fluctuated with summit inflation and deflation, ranging about 26-37 m (85-121 ft) 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 longterm 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 km (3 mi). A few deeper earthquakes were scattered beneath the volcano’s southeast and west flanks at depths less than 13 km (8 mi). 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 the Island of Hawaii this past week.


Visit the HVO website (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/hvo) for past Volcano Watch articles, Kilauea daily eruption updates, Mauna Loa weekly updates, volcano photos, recent earthquakes info, and more. Call for summary updates at 808-967-8862 (Kilauea) or 808-967-8866 (Mauna Loa). Email questions to askHVO@usgs.gov.

Volcano Watch (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/hvo/hvo_volcano_watch.html) is a weekly article and activity update written by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and affiliates. This week’s column was written by HVO Scientist-in-Charge Tina Neal.