Photo and Video Chronology – Kīlauea – December 21, 2020

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An eruption has commenced within Kīlauea’s summit caldera. 

Thick gas plume and fresh tire tracks in Kilauea tephra 12/21/20

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory field crews captured this photo of the thick gas plume, produced by the Kīlauea summit eruption, obscuring the intensity of the sun. Crater Rim Drive (a closed region of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park) is covered in a layer of tephra—volcanic glass—which has been transported by trade winds in the eruption plume, blanketing the pavement below. Fresh tire tracks are visible in the tephra on the road. View is looking to the southwest.

(Credit: D. Downs. Public domain.)

Geologist labels tephra samples Kilauea eruption 12/21/20

HVO geologist retrieves and labels tephra samples from collection buckets placed downwind of Halema‘uma‘u crater after the onset of the Kīlauea summit eruption. These samples are collected for petrological analysis to gain further insight into the eruption dynamics.

(Credit: D. Downs. Public domain.)

Close-up of tephra sample from Kilauea eruption 12/21/20

A close-up photo of a tephra sample taken from one of the sample collection buckets. These small fragments of volcanic glass include Pele’s Hair and Pele’s tears—formed during lava fountaining—which are light weight and can be wafted downwind with the plume. 

(Credit: K. Lynn. Public domain.)

Aerial view of the Kīlauea summit eruption showing active fissures and flowing lava.

Aerial view of the Kīlauea summit eruption from a Hawaiian Volcano Observatory overflight at approximately 11:20 a.m. HST. The two active fissure locations continue to feed lava into the growing lava lake in Halema‘uma‘u crater, with the northern fissure (pictured right) remaining dominant.

(Credit: M. Patrick, USGS. Public domain.)

geophysicist deploys campaign GPS sites on the Kīlauea caldera floor

A Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geophysicist deploys campaign GPS sites on the Kīlauea caldera floor in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park to measure changes in ground motion. The gas plume from the summit eruption within Halema‘uma‘u crater is visible in the background. USGS photo taken by A. Ellis on December 21.

(Credit: A. Ellis, USGS. Public domain.)

Lava returns to Halema'uma'u, at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano. During a helicopter overflight on December 21, 2020, at approximately 11:30 AM HST, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists observed the northern fissure and lava cascade (right) supplying the majority of the lava into the lake, while the western (left) fissure was feeding several small channels that were entering the lake. The lava lake has been rising approximately several meters (yards) an hour since the eruption began at approximately 9:30 PM HST on December 20, 2020.

Matt Patrick, USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

(Public domain.)

Early morning photo of the plume generated during the ongoing eruption at Kīlauea's summit.

Early morning photo of the plume generated during the ongoing eruption at Kīlauea's summit. Plume (primarily water vapor, CO2, SO2, with trace amounts of other gases) drifts with the wind (currently toward the SW). Air quality tracker at

(Public domain.)


Scientist monitors the new eruption within Kīlauea caldera

Dawn arrives at Kīlauea's summit, where scientists are monitoring the new eruption within Kīlauea caldera. Since Dec 20 (~9:30 pm), 3 fissure vents on the wall Halemaʻumaʻu crater have fed lava into a growing lava lake.

(Public domain.)

glowing lava inside the Kīlauea caldera

December 21, 2020 - sunrise at the new eruption site in Kīlauea caldera.

(Public domain.)

lava fountain inside Kīlauea Caldera

View from the W rim of Kīlauea Caldera just before 5 a.m. HST on Dec. 21, 2020. The main fountain height is ~18 m (59 ft) and with two other fissures feeds a growing lava lake at the base of Halemaʻumaʻu crater. Volcanic gas continues to travel downwind, southwest of the vents.

(Public domain.)

lava inside Halemaʻumaʻu crater

No major changes as of 4:09 a.m. HST. The fountain on the N wall of Halemaʻumaʻu crater is dominant, with weaker fountaining exhibited at W fissures. The lava lake is slowly rising. A billowing gas plume continues to drift to the southwest.

(Public domain.)

Color photograph of eruption

Kīlauea's summit eruption at 2:15 a.m. HST on December 21. From the west rim of Kīlauea caldera, a gas plume can be seen rising from Halemaʻumaʻu crater. This plume is drifting to the southwest with the trade winds. Increased sulfur dioxide (SO2) emission rates associated with new eruption may lead to voggy conditions downwind. USGS photo.

(Public domain.)

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Webcams show current conditions on Kīlauea Volcano.