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Groundwater dynamics at Kīlauea Volcano and vicinity, Hawaiʻi

January 7, 2021

Kīlauea Volcano, on the Island of Hawaiʻi, is surrounded and permeated by active groundwater systems that interact dynamically with the volcanic system. A generalized conceptual model of Hawaiian hydrogeology includes high-level dike-impounded groundwater, very permeable perched and basal aquifers, and a transition (mixing) zone between freshwater and saltwater. Most high-level groundwater is associated with the low-permeability intrusive complexes that underlie volcanic rift zones and calderas and also act to compartmentalize the groundwater system. Hydrogeologic studies of Kīlauea in recent decades, accompanied by deep research drilling, have shown that high-level groundwater is more widespread than once understood, that permeability decreases dramatically at depth, particularly in rift zones, and that freshwater can occur at depths of as much as several kilometers below the local water table. Copious groundwater recharge causes near-surface conductive heat flow to be near zero over much of Kīlauea. Approximately 95 percent of groundwater discharge occurs offshore, accompanied by approximately 99 percent of the approximately 6,000 megawatts of heat supplied by magmatic intrusion. Here, we summarize current understanding of the groundwater system of Kīlauea Volcano and describe transient changes during the decade or more preceding the 2018 eruption sequence. The changes in groundwater chemistry and thermal structure beneath Kīlauea summit hold implications for volcanic-volatile transport and the potential for explosive volcanism. Between 2008 and 2018, the magma conduit beneath the lava lake likely created an adjacent zone of very hot rock that significantly delayed liquid groundwater inflow to the draining magma conduit. Sulfate concentrations in groundwater beneath Kīlauea summit, sampled at the National Science Foundation-funded drill hole 1.5 kilometers south-southwest of the lava lake, declined substantially between 2010 and present. This decline likely reflects, at least in part, the decreased effectiveness of volatile condensation and solution into groundwater (scrubbing). The vent opening in 2008 presumably focused volatile flux into the vicinity of the vent, and progressive drying of the surroundings further restricted interaction with the groundwater system. The decrease in sulfate concentrations in the drill hole between 2010 and 2018 likely reflects decreased effectiveness of scrubbing.