Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Chemistry, growth, and fate of the unique, short-lived (2019–2020) water lake at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano, Hawaii

March 12, 2024

Less than a year after the 2018 Kīlauea caldera collapse and eruption, water appeared in newly deepened Halemaʻumaʻu crater. The lake—unprecedented in the written record—grew to a depth of ∼50 m before lava from the December 2020 eruption boiled it away. Surface water heightened concerns of potential phreatic or phreatomagmatic explosions but also offered a new means of possibly identifying eruption precursors. The U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) monitored the lake via direct visual observation, webcams, thermal imaging, colorimetry, and laser rangefinders. HVO also employed uncrewed aircraft systems to sample the water and measure near-lake gas composition. The lake's δD and δ18O indicate a groundwater source with substantial evaporation. The initial sample had a salinity (total dissolved solids concentration) of 71,000 mg/L and was rich in sulfate (∼53,000 mg/L), iron (∼500 mg/L), and magnesium (∼10,000 mg/L). Subsequent samples were slightly more dilute. The water's pH (∼4), δ34S (+4.3‰), and surface temperatures (up to 85°C) suggest, rather than significant scrubbing of magmatic volatiles, leaching of basalt and reactions with sulfate minerals resulted in high concentrations of sulfate and other solutes. Thermodynamic modeling and precipitate mineralogy indicate that water composition was controlled by iron oxidation and sulfate dissolution. Although the lake exhibited no detectable precursors before the next eruption, and phreatic or phreatomagmatic explosions did not materialize, our multi-parameter approach to monitoring yielded an enhanced understanding of the hydrologic, geologic, and magmatic conditions that led to the formation of the unique and short-lived lake.

Publication Year 2024
Title Chemistry, growth, and fate of the unique, short-lived (2019–2020) water lake at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano, Hawaii
DOI 10.1029/2023GC011154
Authors Patricia Nadeau, Shaul Hurwitz, Sara Peek, Allan Lerner, Edward F. Younger, Matthew R. Patrick, David Damby, R. Blaine McCleskey, Peter J. Kelly
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Index ID 70253166
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Science Center