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31 Years and Counting: Today Marks New Milestone in Kīlauea’s Continuing Eruption

January 3, 2014

Lava fountains erupt from the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent in September 1983. (USGS)

Today marks the 31st anniversary of Kīlauea’s ongoing Puʻu ʻŌʻō eruption. This eruption ranks as the most voluminous outpouring of lava from the volcano’s East Rift Zone in the past five centuries. The eruption in Kilauea’s middle east rift zone started with a fissure eruption on January 3, 1983, and continued with few interruptions at Puʻu ʻŌʻō Cone, or temporarily from vents within a few kilometers to the east or west. A fissure eruption on the upper east flank of Puʻu ʻŌʻō Cone on Sept. 21, 2011, drained the lava lakes and fed a lava flow (Peace Day flow) that advanced southeast through the abandoned Royal Gardens subdivision to the ocean within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park in early December 2011. The flows stalled and re-entered the ocean starting on November 24, 2012 until activity started to decline and the ocean entry ceased in August 20, 2013; the flow was dead by early November, 2013. The Kahauale‘a flow, which started from the spatter cone/lava lake at the northeast edge of the Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater floor in mid-January 2013, was dead by late April, but a new flow (informally called Kahauale‘a 2) became active in the same general area in early May 2013. In general, activity waxes with inflation and wanes with deflation.

Map showing the Kahaualeʻa 2 flow in relation to the eastern part of the Big Island as of December 26, 2013. The active front of the Kahaualeʻa 2 flow was spreading into the forest 6.3 km (3.9 miles) northeast of Puʻu ʻŌʻō. The area of the Kahaualeʻa 2 flow as of December 6 is shown in pink, while widening of the flow as of December 26 is shown in red. Older lava flows are distinguished by color: episodes 1–48b flows (1983–1986) are shown in gray; episodes 48c–49 flows (1986–1992) are pale yellow; episodes 50–55 flows (1992–2007) are tan; episodes 58–60 flows (2007–2011) are pale orange, and episode 61 flows (2011–2013) are reddish orange. The active lava tube is shown with a yellow line. (USGS)

The eruption can be roughly divided in to five time periods. From 1983 to 1986, a series of short-lived lava fountains built a cinder-and-spatter cone later named Puʻu ʻŌʻō. In 1986, the eruption shifted 3 km (1.8 mi) northeastward along Kīlauea’s east rift zone, where a nearly continuous outpouring of lava built a broad shield, Kupaianaha, and sent flows to the coast for more than five years.

In 1992, the eruption moved back uprift and new vents opened on the southwestern flank of Puʻu ʻŌʻō. Over the next 15 years, nearly continuous effusion of lava from these vents sent flows to the ocean, mainly within Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. The most significant change during the 1992–2007 interval was a brief uprift fissure eruption and the corresponding collapse of Puʻu ʻŌʻō’s west flank in January 1997.

May 1998: View into skylight shows lava cascading down a steep slope. (USGS)

In June 2007, an hours-long, unwitnessed eruption uprift of Puʻu ʻŌʻō led to renewed collapse within the cone and a brief hiatus in activity. When the eruption resumed in July 2007, new vents opened between Puʻu ʻŌʻō and Kupaianaha, sending flows to Kīlauea’s southeastern coast until early 2011.

This activity was terminated by another short-lived eruption uprift of Puʻu ʻŌʻō in March 2011. Activity at Puʻu ʻŌʻō then resumed with a brief breakout from the western flank of the cone in August 2011, followed by the opening of a new, persistent vent on Puʻu ʻŌʻō’s northeast flank in September 2011. Flows from this latter vent remained active on Kīlauea’s southeastern flank into 2013.

At this writing, the public is prohibited from hiking to Puʻu ʻŌʻō’s Kahauale‘a 2 lava flows on foot. These flows are within the State of Hawai‘i’s Natural Area Reserve, which is closed to the public. The closest that hikers can get to Puʻu ʻŌʻō from Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is by hiking seven miles (one-way) to the Nāpau Crater overlook — a wonderful day hike, or choose to camp overnight. Aerial tours are one way to see the current eruptive activity from Puʻu ʻŌʻō close-up, but the best eruption viewing on foot continues to be from Kīlauea’s “other” eruption, happening at Halema‘uma‘u crater within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

For more in-depth details of the past 31 years, see the following links:

  • 1983–1986, Rise of Puʻu ʻŌʻō
  • 1986–1992, Shift to Kupaianaha
  • 1992–2007, Return to Puʻu ʻŌʻō
  • 2007–2011, Another downrift shift
  • 2011–2012, A new eruptive period begins

For current eruption information, visit the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory:

January 1983: Initial eruptive fissure on the east rift zone of Kilauea. (USGS)

Volcano Awareness Month

January 2014 is Hawaiʻi Island’s 5th annual “Volcano Awareness Month.” Today, as in the past, awareness is essential for us to live in harmony with the volcanoes that are our island home.

With this in mind, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, in cooperation with Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, and Hawaiʻi County Civil Defense, will provide a month-long series of programs about the volcanoes on which we live:

“At-a-Glance” Program Schedule

Program descriptions:

  • “After Dark in the Park”
  • University of Hawaii at Hilo
  • Kona
  • Kaʻǖ
  • Onizuka Science Day
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