Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Pre-existing ground cracks as lava flow pathways at Kīlauea in 2014

March 26, 2024

In 2014, the Pāhoa lava flow at Kīlauea, on the Island of Hawaiʻi (USA), entered a string of pre-existing meter-width ground cracks in the volcano’s East Rift Zone. The ground cracks transported lava below the surface in a direction discordant to the slope of the landscape. The cracks, which were 100s of meters long and 10s to 100s of meters deep, also widened by up to several meters as they filled, probably in part at the expense of adjacent cracks, which likely closed. Widening of the cracks caused shallow crustal blocks on the volcano’s flank to shift—this deformation was captured by a nearby GPS station and a borehole tiltmeter. The GPS station moved away from the cracks in response, while the tiltmeter showed tilting toward the cracks, consistent with opening. Noting that the lava-filled cracks act as top-fed dikes, we adapt existing theory for the thermo-rheological evolution of dikes to analyze transport of lava captured by ground cracks and propose mechanisms for the exit of the lava back to the surface. This study shows that ground cracks as narrow as 50 cm wide can facilitate the transport of advancing lava flows and can carry lava in directions that differ from those expected based on surface topography, invalidating flow path projections based on the assumption of subaerial flow.

Publication Year 2024
Title Pre-existing ground cracks as lava flow pathways at Kīlauea in 2014
DOI 10.1007/s00445-024-01725-9
Authors T. Orr, Edward W. Llewellin, Kyle R. Anderson, Matthew R. Patrick
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Bulletin of Volcanology
Index ID 70252527
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Science Center