Volcano Watch: The most unusual Kilauea eruption…maybe 1823?

Aerial view of one of the lava-plastered cones, showing thin 1823 pahoehoe flows (dark gray) draped over older cinder and spatter (tan). (S. Rowland/University of Hawaii at Manoa)

Low-angle aerial view of the Great Crack and surrounding 1823 lava flows (dark gray) along Kilauea’s lower Southwest Rift Zone. The crack is about 50 feet (15 meters) wide in this area with similar but variable depth, depending on the amount of rock rubble filling the opening. (USGS photo/D. Downs)

Last month a Volcano Watch article discussed the bicentennial of the first visit of westerners to Kilauea caldera, led by English missionary William Ellis, in 1823. Ellis did not just visit the summit region; he had approached from Ka‘u, traveling along what eventually became known as Kilauea’s Southwest Rift Zone (SWRZ). Ellis first witnessed evidence of Kilauea’s restlessness there, in the form of a vast, 4.8-square-mile (12.5 square-kilometer) lava flow that had erupted just a short time before.