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Crater growth and lava-lake dynamics revealed through multitemporal terrestrial lidar scanning at Kīlauea Volcano, Hawaiʻi

December 14, 2021

Lava lake surfaces display the tops of active magma columns and respond to eruption variables such as magmatic pressure, convection, degassing, and cooling, as well as interactions with the craters that contain them. However, they are challenging to study owing to the numerous hazards that accompany these eruptions, and they are typically difficult to observe because the emitted gas plumes obscure the lava lake surfaces. The 2008–2018 Overlook crater and lava lake at Kīlauea Volcano, Hawaiʻi, provided a remarkable opportunity to study several high-resolution data streams of eruption variables that impacted the lava lake. To investigate how the crater and associated lava lake responded to changes in these eruption variables, we acquired terrestrial light detection and ranging (lidar) surveys of the Overlook crater and lava lake surface from February 2012 through December 2013, supplemented with several earlier terrestrial and airborne lidar datasets, to quantitatively track changes in the shape of the lava lake surface and the crater walls. Lidar captures high-resolution data even when the lake is completely obscured by thick gas plumes. We used a novel “unrolling technique” to map volumetric changes in crater shape, because standard elevation differencing fails to capture all topographic changes on the nearly vertical, and sometimes overhanging, crater walls. We measured crater perimeter growth rates of approximately 52 meters per year from 2009 to 2013, with the greatest growth occurring along a line linking areas of persistent upwelling and downwelling. We suggest that the development of an oblong crater with a perimeter that grows linearly is best explained by a model where degradation is favored at the sites of persistent upwelling and downwelling and where growth is controlled by a lithology that varies little with respect to rock strength. We also found that most of the Overlook crater growth occurred during a relatively small number of significant rockfall events (~16) over this period. Additional lidar datasets revealed that the lava lake surface has a measurable slope from the areas of persistent upwelling to downwelling, although rockfalls from the crater walls temporarily changed the direction of crustal plate movement along with the magnitude and direction of the lava lake surface slope. Our study demonstrates that lidar is an effective tool for tracking the topography of an active volcanic crater when heavy outgassing renders other tools, such as structure from motion, ineffective.