Volcano Watch: Keeping up with Kilauea

The two distinct clusters of earthquakes at Kilauea during the four recent time periods of swarm activity. The event counts at the south caldera cluster increase while the counts at the upper East Rift Zone cluster diminish from the first to the fourth time periods. (HVO/Courtesy image)

Lava fountains from Monday's fissure eruption in Kilauea's Southwest Rift Zone were estimated to have reached as high as 20 meters (66 feet), with an average height of 10 meters (33 feet). (Drew Downs/HVO)

Kilauea began erupting from fissures southwest of Kaluapele (the summit caldera) just after midnight on June 3; the eruption ceased just nine hours later, though lava flows continued to slowly spread for several more hours. Prior to the brief eruption, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) had been monitoring pulses of heightened seismic activity in the summit area for weeks.

How did these earthquakes give us insight into the features of the molten magma below and the eruption that was to come?


Earthquakes result from the breaking of cooler, brittle rock. As magma moves into an area, it forces the surrounding rock to bend and then break. This brittle rock “failure” is what seismologists at HVO see daily on live data streams as earthquakes. The locations of earthquakes can outline magma chambers, indicate fault movement, or show where magma is moving into new area. At Kilauea, earthquake swarms paired with changes in ground motion as seen on tiltmeters give HVO scientists an idea of the pressurization of magma chambers beneath the surface.

The proposed magma plumbing system at Kilauea is divided into three main chambers: the Halema‘uma‘u reservoir, the south caldera reservoir, and the Keanakako‘i reservoir. In the weeks leading up to Monday’s eruption, there were three distinct periods of heightened unrest. From April 27-May 3, May 6-9, and May 17-18, two distinct clusters of earthquakes occurred in the south caldera and the upper East Rift Zone (see box 3 in Figure 1).

During these swarms, earthquake locations often switched between the south caldera cluster and the upper East Rift Zone cluster as magma pressure levels fluctuated within the different storage regions. The event counts at the south caldera cluster increase while the counts at the upper east rift cluster diminish as the system moved closer to eruption. Rates of ground tilt, measured by summit tiltmeters would also increase during the earthquake swarms, indicating an increased pulse of magma was accumulating beneath the surface.

Although the earthquakes occurred in distinct clusters, they could have happened in response to the stresses created by magma chambers located nearby. For this reason, there were several possibilities scenarios. First, magma accumulation could stop, and no eruption would occur. Magma accumulation could continue with an eruption in Kaluapele or magma could migrate to the southwest with either an intrusion (similar to last January) or eruption.

As we now know, magma did indeed migrate to the southwest and this time it erupted.

Just after noon on Sunday, June 2, earthquakes increased again beneath the south caldera region and intensified quickly, prompting HVO to raise the alert level and aviation color code for Kilauea at 5:30 p.m. HST.

For twelve hours, earthquakes of up to M4.1 shook the summit region until 12:30 a.m. Monday morning, when a fissure opened about 1 mile (2 km) southwest of the caldera. The eruption happened in the vicinity of ground cracks that formed in the late January intrusion.

Past eruptions in this area — in 1971 and 1974 — have been brief, so it was no surprise when the fissure stopped erupting nine hours after the eruption began. Fortunately, the short-lived eruption occurred within a closed area of Hawai Volcanoes National Park; it did no damage to infrastructure. This was the first eruption in this area of Kilauea in 50 years, and the first eruption outside of Kaluapele since 2018. Only about 100 acres were covered with new lava, compared to over 500 during the September 2023 eruption within Kaluapele.

While lava has stopped moving on the surface of Kilauea, volcanic gas emissions remain elevated and activity beneath the surface remains dynamic. HVO scientists will continue to closely monitor for signs of change.

Volcano activity updates

Kilauea is not erupting. Its USGS Volcano Alert level is ADVISORY.

Kilauea erupted briefly on Monday, June 3, southwest of Kaluapele (Kilauea caldera) within the closed area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Tremor and incandescence associated with the fissure vents are still present but have decreased significantly since June 3. Sulfur dioxide emission rates remain elevated in the upper Southwest Rift Zone eruption area; an emission rate of 400 tonnes per day was measured today, June 6, for the combined areas of Kilauea summit and the recent eruption. Overall seismicity in the summit region including the eruption area remains low, although inflationary ground deformation of the summit continues. Additional pulses of seismicity and deformation could result in new eruptive episodes within the area or elsewhere on the Southwest Rift Zone.

Mauna Loa is not erupting. Its USGS Volcano Alert Level is at NORMAL.

Webcams show no signs of activity on Mauna Loa. Summit seismicity has remained at low levels over the past month. Ground deformation indicates continuing slow inflation as magma replenishes the reservoir system following the 2022 eruption. SO2 emission rates are at background levels.

Nine earthquakes were reported felt in the Hawaiian Islands during the past week: a M3.5 earthquake 4 km (2 mi) S of Pahala at 30 km (18 mi) depth on June 5 at 4:18 a.m. HST, a M3.1 earthquake 3 km (1 mi) SSW of Pahala at 31 km (19 mi) depth on June 3 at 7:01 a.m. HST, a M4.1 earthquake 7 km (4 mi) SSW of Volcano at 0 km (0 mi) depth on June 2 at 9:12 p.m. HST, a M3.2 earthquake 7 km (4 mi) SW of Volcano at 1 km (1 mi) depth on June 2 at 7:38 p.m. HST, a M4.0 earthquake 7 km (4 mi) SSW of Volcano at 0 km (0 mi) depth on June 2 at 7:06 p.m. HST, a M3.1 earthquake 7 km (4 mi) SSW of Volcano at 0 km (0 mi) depth on June 2 at 6:15 p.m. HST, a M3.4 earthquake 7 km (4 mi) SW of Volcano at 1 km (1 mi) depth on June 2 at 5:15 p.m. HST, a M3.1 earthquake 8 km (4 mi) SW of Volcano at 1 km (0 mi) depth on June 2, 2024 at 4:58 p.m. HST, and a M3.4 earthquake 12 km (7 mi) S of Waikoloa at 35 km (22 mi) depth on June 1 at 7:16 p.m. HST.

HVO continues to closely monitor Kilauea and Mauna Loa.

Please visit HVO’s website for past Volcano Watch articles, Kilauea and Mauna Loa updates, volcano photos, maps, recent earthquake information, and more. Email questions to askHVO@usgs.gov.

Volcano Watch is a weekly article and activity update written by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and affiliates.

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