Photo and Video Chronology - Kilauea - March 16, 1998

Release Date:

East Rift Zone Eruption Quietly Delivers Lava to the Sea

This update current as of March 16, 1998. Eruption updates are posted monthly; more frequent updates will accompany drastic changes in activity or increased threat to residential areas.

Aerial oblique view of Pu`u `O`o cinder-and-spatter cone

Aerial oblique view of Pu`u `O`o cinder-and-spatter cone, looking west-southwest. Visible in foreground are crater overflows that occurred chiefly in 1997. Main crater floor lies 30-40 m below the east rim. The feature known as "crater vent" is the heavily fuming area in upper left of crater floor; it forms a shallow depression about 100 m long within the crater floor. Only scant fresh lava was visible in the crater vent when this photo (p0910) was taken February 12, 1998. Distance across crater is about 200 m (left to right). (Public domain.)

Since our previous update on February 24th:

  • the eruption has been characterized by steady-state activity on the east rift zone. Seismicity has been low, and the summit of Kilauea Volcano has shown almost no inflation or deflation, because magma is able to move through shallow conduits en route to the east rift zone without disturbing the ground surface.
  • surface flows were briefly active on the Pulama pali on March 2 and 10.
  • surface flows were active intermittently on the coastal plain.

The Pu`u `O`o vent area has showed little change for the last six weeks, except for a new glowing hole in the crater floor that was first observed on March 11. The pre-existing crater vent is also marked by a glowing hole, but has not produced any lava for over three weeks. Fume issues from cracks in the cone and surrounding area. Even helicopter overflights are commonly greeted with such profuse fuming that little of the crater vent may be visible at any one time.

Lava travels in tubes from the Pu`u `O`o vent area to the ocean. Surface lava flows have been sparse in the past six weeks. Lava broke out of the tube on the Pulama pali on March 2 and 10. Both flows stagnated in less than a day. Small flows issued from lava tubes on the coastal plain on March 3-7, March 10, and March 14. These flows escape from weak points in the roof of the tube. Most breakouts have been near the Waha`ula ocean entry. The photo above shows a skylight and eight-week-old lava flow on the upper flow field.

Lava from the ongoing eruption enters the ocean at two sites. New land is built in these areas as the lava progrades seaward. Waha`ula, the easterly site, is named for a heiau (ancient Hawaiian temple) that was overrun by lava in August 1997.

The westerly site at Kamokuna shows many features characteristic of the lava-ocean interface. A 10- to 15-m-high cliff borders the ocean, and the new land forms a low shelf or bench at the foot of the cliff. The bench grows seaward, but the steep submarine slope promotes failure when the bench becomes too massive. At these times, the bench and its substrate collapse abruptly into the ocean. Such a collapse occurred sometime between February 16 and 19, destroying 4 hectares (10 acres) of land that had been built since the previous collapse five weeks earlier on January 15.

Eruption-viewing opportunities change constantly, so those readers planning a visit to the volcano should contact Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park for the most current eruption information (ph. 808-985-6000). Additional photographs and descriptions of east rift eruptive activity may be found on the University of Hawai`i's web site.

Low aerial oblique view looking south across the upper flow field toward coast.

Low aerial oblique view looking south across the upper flow field toward coast. Yellow-orange spot is a skylight or opening into a lava tube at the 1860-ft elevation; opening is about 4 m wide, and the stream of lava is 6.5 m beneath the ground surface. About 50 m beyond skylight is shiny flow that issued from a skylight on January 15, 1998; the site of blue-gray smoke marks the old skylight now crusted over by the recent flow. Photo p0926, taken on February 12, 1998. (Public domain.)

Aerial oblique view southwest along south shore of Island of Hawai`i.

Aerial oblique view southwest along south shore of Island of Hawai`i. Foreground steam plume marks lava entry at Waha`ula; behind it is the entry at Kamokuna. Distance between the two plumes is about 900 m. Coastal plain has been covered by lava flows emplaced in the past 15 years as far west as the pale yellowish-brown ground 6 km distance. Entire scene is within Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. Photo p0919, taken February 12, 1998. (Public domain.)

Aerial oblique view west at Kamokuna lava entry.

Aerial oblique view west at Kamokuna lava entry. Outline shows extent of bench that existed prior to mid-February collapse. Large collapses are commonly accompanied by explosions as hot rock and lava are abruptly mixed with sea water. Debris from the explosion is thrown inland of the cliff for tens of meters. (Public domain.)

Map showing distribution of lava flows as of February 29, 1998

Flow-field map showing lava emplaced since Jan. 14 (red), other lava of episode 55 (orange), and lava from previous episodes of the 15-year-long ongoing eruption on Kilauea Volcano's east rift zone. This map was compiled on February 20, 1998; little change has occurred since then. (Public domain.)