Frequently Asked Questions about Kīlauea's Summit Eruptions
Kīlauea's Recent Summit Eruptions - Frequently Asked Questions
What is happening at the summit of Kīlauea?
Kīlauea volcano has been intermittently erupting. This is an exciting time on Kīlauea because several eruptions have occurred at the summit following the 2018 summit collapse. Five eruptions have occurred since 2020. For up-to-date information on Kīlauea, see the daily eruption update.
For information about the Kīlauea summit eruptions in 2020-2023, see this webpage: December 2020 - June 2023 Summit Eruptions | U.S. Geological Survey (usgs.gov)
How long will an eruption last?
Eruptions at Kīlauea summit over the past several years have lasted from about two weeks to over a year. Typically, these eruptions start vigorously and decrease in vigor over time (as this eruption has done).
Will the crater and/or caldera fill up and overflow with all this lava?
In 2018, the southern portion of Kīlauea's summit caldera partially collapsed. Portions of the caldera floor lowered by as much as 500 m (1,600 ft). Eruptions at Kīlauea's summit since 2020 have slowly been filling in the deepest parts that collapsed, which were in Halema‘uma‘u crater. During the September 2023 eruption, the eastern rim of the crater has been buried by new lava flows. Pāhoehoe lava flows cover most of the crater floor except high ground formed during previous eruptive activity in the southwest portions of the crater. The volume of the 2018 collapse was approximately 0.8 cubic km (0.2 cubic miles); eruptions at Kīlauea's summit since 2020 have filled only about 25% of the volume of the 2018 collapse and so there is still much volume to fill before lava approaches the upper caldera floor above the downdropped block (and even more volume to fill before lava approaches the caldera rim, which is even higher).
How deep is the crater? How deep is the caldera?
The difference in elevation between Halema‘uma‘u crater/the downdropped block and the upper caldera floor is still over 100 meters (330 ft). The rim of the caldera is another 150 meters (500 ft) above that. The September 11, 2023—Kīlauea summit eruption reference map shows the current geometry of Kīlauea summit.
Are there any official names for features in the caldera or how does USGS refer to them?
The official name of Kīlauea caldera is Kaluapele and Halemaʻumaʻu is an officially named feature within the caldera. There are a number of other officially-named features in the summit region, which are listed in the U.S. Board on Geographic Names database (https://edits.nationalmap.gov/apps/gaz-domestic/public/search/names). In the eruption area, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has been unofficially referring to the large block that lowered in 2018 as the “downdropped” or “down-dropped” block. During eruptions, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff often informally name vents—by letter, number, or some other description—to track their activity. For example, fissure 8 of the lower East Rift Zone eruption in 2018 was the eighth fissure to being erupting. Since then, the cone that formed at fissure 8 has been officially renamed “Ahuʻailāʻau.” Vents active during recent eruptions at Kīlauea summit eruption have not typically been informally named because the activity is so dynamic initially.
In the dark is the livestream camera using some kind of filter to see the lava (red filter, infrared, etc.), or is this just natural light from the lava?
The camera isn’t designed for super hot materials and there is a filter that is supposed to cut out the near infrared light. However, there is likely some near infrared bleeding into the image, making the colors look the way they do during eruptions. View the livestream here: https://www.youtube.com/usgs/live
How can I view an eruption?
Eruptions at the summit of Kīlauea occur within Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
The National Park published guidelines on “How to Safely View the New Eruption in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.” Please visit the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park website for the most up-to-date information on viewing eruptions within the National Park: https://www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm.
Why are some areas within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park closed to the public?
Some areas within the Park are closed because of ongoing, persistent volcanic hazards that can cause serious injury or death. These hazards can include:
- Sulfur dioxide and other volcanic gases: Trade winds transport gases predominantly to the southwest and conditions can change rapidly. As a result, portions of the closed area within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park have consistently poor air quality. USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) staff carry gas-detection devices, gas masks [respirators] and eye protection so that they are aware of air quality conditions at all times and are able to respond to worsening conditions.
- Possible explosions or ejection of hot lava: Conditions at a lava lake can be unpredictable. As the 2008-2018 lava lake demonstrated, sudden rockfall into the lava lake, for example, could potentially generate an explosion with the ejection of hot lava. HVO field crews wear high-visibility flame-resistant clothing, gloves, eye protection, and hard hats while working near the rim and maintain contact with scientists monitoring data feeds so they are alerted to sudden changes.
- Cracks, cliffs, and uneven ground surface: The 2018 Kīlauea summit collapse dramatically altered the landscape within the closed area, particularly near the caldera rim and Halema‘uma‘u, the location of the current eruption. Since 2018, HVO staff have studied and mapped the area and are aware of the location of unstable surfaces, hazards, and the safest areas from which to observe the current eruption. HVO field crews entering the area are equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) units to ensure they are accessing safe locations along safe routes and are using consistent routes so as not to damage or disturb NPS resources (native plants and nēnē, for example).
Many of these areas have been closed since 2008, when volcanic activity resulted in the creation of a lava lake (2008-2018).
What steps do HVO and NPS staff take to be safe in hazardous areas?
Kīlauea’s summit is dynamic and the situation can rapidly change, as the several recent eruptions demonstrate. In addition to personal protective equipment such as gas detectors, respirators, eye protection, hard hat, high visibility heat-resistant clothing, gloves, and boots, HVO field crews are in constant communication with HVO scientists watching geophysical monitoring data. If monitoring data indicate changes that could result in unstable conditions, field crews are immediately informed and can rapidly evacuate the area. HVO field crews carry InReach tracking devices, so their field positions are known at all times. HVO field crews carry radios and maintain contact with National Park Service Rangers.
Basic safety/PPE gear that HVO staff wear/carry: heat-resistant clothing, sturdy boots, helmet, high-VIS USGS identifier, eye protection, GPS (with waypoints, tracks), phone for communication, gas mask (respirator), gas-detection device, gloves, rain gear, first aid kit, radio for communication with NPS, InReach tracking device.
Why is it necessary for USGS HVO staff to enter hazardous areas?
The mission of the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) is to monitor the active volcanoes in Hawaii, assesses their hazards, issues warnings, and advance scientific understanding to reduce impacts of volcanic eruptions. HVO personnel conduct mission-critical research in the hazardous and closed area of Kīlauea's summit to fulfill this mission, with permission and in partnership with the National Park Service. During the recent eruption, HVO staff are collecting data related to earthquakes, volcanic gas emissions, ground deformation, and fissure/lava lake behavior, in order to understand how the eruption is evolving and to assess hazards at Kīlauea's summit. This information is shared with the National Park Service and emergency managers, who make public safety decisions based on current conditions and hazards.
Is it safe to breathe volcanic gas or vog?
Be aware that significant sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions continue and poor air quality is likely in areas downwind of the vents as volcanic emissions react in the atmosphere to form Vog (volcanic air pollution). Vog can create an airborne health hazard to residents and visitors.
It is very important to take measures to protect yourself if you feel your health is being affected by vog. "Sensitive groups" most likely to experience health impacts include:
- people with asthma, lung or heart problems
- older adults
- infants and children
- pregnant women
For more information, see the following resources: