Kilauea Volcano’s 2018 lower East Rift Zone eruption and summit collapse provided a rare opportunity to study dynamic eruptive processes beneath and at the surface of the volcano.
In 1902, Thomas A. Jaggar, a geologist and founder of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, visited the scene of one of the most deadly volcanic disasters in modern history: Mount Pelee on the Caribbean Island of Martinique.
The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has an extensive network of instruments that helps us monitor how the ground deforms due to magma moving underground. However, we are fortunate that scientific colleagues also pitched in to support our responses to Kilauea Volcano’s lower East Rift Zone eruption and summit collapse.
Many Hawaii Island residents are familiar with the volcanic air pollution known as vog. The main culprit in the formation of vog is sulfur dioxide gas (SO2) released from Kilauea’s eruptions (see vog.ivhhn.org/what-vog for more information).
The visible part of Kilauea from the summit to the Lower East Rift Zone makes up only a small portion of the total volcano. Much of Kilauea lies beneath the sea, including the Puna ridge to the east and the south flank extending offshore beyond the southern coastline.
Since the morning of Aug. 4, activity at Kilauea Volcano’s summit and its lower East Rift Zone has diminished dramatically — and the slowdown continues. But what does it mean?
“How long will it last?” is one of the most challenging questions asked about a volcanic eruption, including Kilauea volcano’s current lower East Rift Zone eruption.
“What’s happening inside the volcano?” That’s just one of many questions asked about Kilauea’s ongoing lower East Rift Zone eruption. Looking at the geochemistry of erupted lava can help us answer these questions.
Since May 3, Kilauea Volcano’s lower East Rift Zone eruption has destroyed more than 700 structures, covered more than 32 sq km (12.4 sq mi) of land with black lava and added about 700 acres of new land to the island. Yet, remarkably, injuries were few.
For many Hawaii residents, interactions with Kilauea Volcano’s eruptions is through vog — a hazy mixture of sulfur dioxide gas and sulfate particles. However, sulfur on Kilauea is not limited to vog components.