How hot is a Hawaiian volcano?

Very hot!! Here are some temperatures recorded at different times and locations:

  • The eruption temperature of Kīlauea lava is about 1,170 degrees Celsius (2,140 degrees Fahrenheit). 
  • The temperature of the lava in the tubes is about 1,250 degrees Celsius (2,200 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • The tube system of episode 53 (Pu'u O'o eruption) carried lava for 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the vent to the sea. The tubes contained the heat so efficiently that the lava was still a sizzling 1,140 degrees Celsius (2,085 degrees Fahrenheit) when it reached the ocean.
  • The color of incandescent rock gives a crude estimate of temperature. Yellow indicates a temperature of about 1,000–1,200 degrees Celsius (1,832–2,192 degrees Fahrenheit). Orange indicates a slightly cooler temperature of about 800–1,000 degrees Celsius (1,472–1,832 degrees Fahrenheit). Red is even cooler, about 600–800 degrees Celsius (1,112–1,472 degrees Fahrenheit).  
  • The outer surface of erupting lava cools incredibly quickly when it is first exposed to air—hundreds of degrees per second.

Related Content

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2017 (approx.)

In March 2008, a new volcanic vent opened within Halema‘uma‘u, a crater at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park on the Island of Hawaiʻi. This new vent is one of two ongoing eruptions on the volcano. The other is on Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone, where vents have been erupting nearly nonstop since 1983. The duration of these simultaneous summit and rift zone eruptions on Kīlauea is unmatched in at least 200 years. 

Since 2008, Kīlauea’s summit eruption has consisted of continuous degassing, occasional explosive events, and an active, circulating lava lake. Because of ongoing volcanic hazards associated with the summit vent, including the emission of high levels of sulfur dioxide gas and fragments of hot lava and rock explosively hurled onto the crater rim, the area around Halemaʻumaʻu remains closed to the public as of 2017.

Through historical photos of past Halemaʻumaʻu eruptions and stunning 4K imagery of the current eruption, this 24-minute program tells the story of Kīlauea Volcano’s summit lava lake—now one of the two largest lava lakes in the world. It begins with a Hawaiian chant that expresses traditional observations of a bubbling lava lake and reflects the connections between science and culture that continue on Kīlauea today.

The video briefly recounts the eruptive history of Halemaʻumaʻu and describes the formation and continued growth of the current summit vent and lava lake. It features USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists sharing their insights on the summit eruption—how they monitor the lava lake, how and why the lake level rises and falls, why explosive events occur, the connection between Kīlauea’s ongoing summit and East Rift Zone eruptions, and the impacts of the summit eruption on the Island of Hawaiʻi and beyond.

scientist shown taking a lava temp using a heat shield
July 8, 2016

In this photo, a USGS researcher is taking a temperature measurement on a sluggish channel eddy on Kīlauea Volcano in 1984. The research in Hawaiʻi is just one of many projects overseen by the USGS Volcano Hazards Program, which monitors active and potentially active volcanoes, assesses their hazards, responds to volcanic crises, and conducts research on how volcanoes work.

Mauna Ulu lava flow on Hawai‘i Island
2016 (approx.)

Mauna Ulu began erupting in May 1969 on Kilauea volcano's east rift zone. Within the first 6 months of erupting 12 lava fountains could be seen, some over 1000 ft high in the air! 

Scientist shields face while scooping lava with a hammer for chemical analysis
October 21, 2013

An HVO geologist shields his face from the intense heat as he takes a sample of active lava on the Kahaualeʻa 2 flow, Kilauea Volcano Hawaii.  The chemistry of the lava is analyzed through time and used to study changes in the magmatic system.  

video thumbnail: Lava Lake at Halema'uma'u Crater
September 20, 2010

The lava lake deep within the vent cavity at Halema'uma'u crater remains active, with ongoing degassing and circulation of lava. This Quicktime movie shows the view in the vent today with a thermal camera, and the video is set at x4 speed to better show the slowly moving lava surface. Today, the lava surface was moving at a rate of about 18 meters per minute (or about 0.7 miles per hour).

Image: Thermal Image of Lava Reaching Ocean
July 30, 2010

This composite image merges a thermal image and normal photograph, and shows the active flow front in Kalapana.  Breakouts (shown by white/yellow areas) were present at the base of the pali (uppermost white/yellow areas), in several spots near the County viewing area, and on the fingers of lava feeding the two ocean entries. 

Image: Lava Exiting Lava Tube
July 26, 2010

Lava exited the tube at the sea cliff and poured out onto the growing delta.

Image: Lava flow breakout
April 8, 2010

Lava flow breakout

video thumbnail: Thermal View of Lava Surface Deep within Halema'uma'u
April 7, 2010

This movie shows the lava surface deep within the Halema'uma'u vent cavity, captured with a thermal camera that can see through the thick fume. The lava surface is about 70 meters (230 ft) wide, and remains about 200 meters (660 ft) below the cavity rim. The surface is mostly crusted, with a slow migration from north to south. Small spattering sources occasionally break through the thin crust. Just a few minutes after this video was taken, violent degassing and spattering ensued, disrupting the entire lava surface, and the lava level dropped about 20 meters (66 ft).

Image: Lava Flow Entering Water
November 15, 2009

A small open channel of lava was entering the water at one of two entry points at the west Waikupanaha entry area.

Lava spatters into the air
November 30, 2000

Animated image of lava spattering at  Pu'u 'O 'o crater.

Animated image of lava flowing slowly
November 30, 2000

Animated image of lava flowing from a volcano taken from a video excerpt from "Molten Paradise: Kilauea Volcano" a collaboration between HDNet television and USGS.