Volcano Watch — More lava flowing than scientists thought

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The 10-year-long eruption on Kīlauea's East Rift Zone continued this past week. Lava is erupting from the episode 51 and 53 vents on the southwest side of the Pu`u `O`o cone, but is being carried towards the coast entirely within underground lava tubes as far as the top of the pali. 

The 10-year-long eruption on Kīlauea's East Rift Zone continued this past week. Lava is erupting from the episode 51 and 53 vents on the southwest side of the Pu`u `O`o cone, but is being carried towards the coast entirely within underground lava tubes as far as the top of the pali. Most of the time, the flows are carried nearly to the ocean within the tube system, but occasionally flows break out of the tube on the pali. 

Lava continues to enter the ocean at Lae`apuki and Kamoamoa. The Kamoamoa flows enter the sea both east and west of the lava delta formed between November and early February. The Lae`apuki flow enters the ocean along a broad front, and numerous small surface flows occur inland from the coast. The westernmost flow approached the Chain of Craters Road but did not cross it; this flow is no longer active. 

The new map shows, in black, the flows that have occurred since activity resumed on February 8. The earlier flows from the episode 50, 51, and 52 vents are shown in a single shade of gray. These flows were erupted between February 1992 and February 1993.

Since activity resumed in early February, the lava flux (volume per day) has been much greater than during the previous year. During the past year, we measured fluxes on the order of 100,000 to 150,000 cubic meters (roughly 130,000 to 200,000 cubic yards) per day. Since February 8, our measurements have been on the order of 300,000 cubic meters per day. Such large fluxes have not been seen for several years and are comparable to those in 1990, when the flows from the Kupaianaha shield buried Kalapana. 

These higher fluxes do not fit with the long-term trend towards decreasing flux that formed the basis for our statements that the eruption has been slowly winding down over the past few years. It is possible that the current higher flux is a short-term variation and that the flux will rapidly drop back to the levels we have been measuring the past two years. However, if the higher flux continues, the eruption may have entered a new, more vigorous phase.