Volcano Watch: A closer look at Kilauea’s newest lava

  • Left: magnified view of erupted material, including Pele’s hair and tears, as seen under a microscope (USGS Photo by K. Lynn on 12/26/2020). Middle: Zoomed in electron image of the tephra, where greyscale indicates the relative abundance of iron (Fe). Very small (less than 0.1 mm [less than 0.004 inches]) clinopyroxene and plagioclase crystals are labeled next to vesicles (bubbles). Right: Another electron image of tephra that contains small (~0.5 mm [0.2 inches]) olivine crystals with spinels. Greyscale images from the University of Hawaii at Manoa electron microprobe laboratory, used with permission.

Every rock on Earth is made of up a unique combination of chemical elements, and lavas/tephra formed during Hawaiian eruptions are no exception. What is the geochemistry of Kilauea’s newest tephra — and how can it help us understand the processes driving the ongoing eruption?