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Kīlauea’s 2008–2018 summit lava lake—Chronology and eruption insights

January 7, 2021

The first eruption at Kīlauea’s summit in 25 years began on March 19, 2008, and persisted for 10 years. The onset of the eruption marked the first explosive activity at the summit since 1924, forming the new “Overlook crater” (as the 2008 summit eruption crater has been informally named) within the existing crater of Halemaʻumaʻu. The first year consisted of sporadic lava activity deep within the Overlook crater. Occasional small explosions deposited spatter and small wall-rock lithic pieces around the Halemaʻumaʻu rim. After a month-long pause at the end of 2008, deep sporadic lava lake activity returned in 2009. Continuous lava lake activity began in February 2010. The lake rose significantly in late 2010 and early 2011, before subsequently draining briefly in March 2011. This disruption of the summit eruption was triggered by eruptive activity on the East Rift Zone. Rising lake levels through 2012 established a more stable, larger lake in 2013, with continued enlargement over the subsequent 5 years. Lava reached the Overlook crater rim and overflowed on the Halemaʻumaʻu floor in brief episodes in 2015, 2016, and 2018, but the lake level was more commonly 20–60 meters below the rim during 2014–18. The lake was approximately 280×200 meters (~42,000 square meters) by early 2018 and formed one of the two largest lava lakes on Earth.

A new eruption began in the lower East Rift Zone on May 3, 2018, causing magma to drain from the summit reservoir complex. The lava in Halemaʻumaʻu had drained below the crater floor by May 10, followed by collapse of the Overlook and Halemaʻumaʻu craters. The collapse region expanded as much of the broader summit caldera floor subsided incrementally during June and July. By early August 2018, the collapse sequence had ended, and the summit was quiet. The historical changes in May–August 2018 brought a dramatic end to the decade of sustained activity at Kīlauea’s summit.

The unique accessibility of the 2008–18 lava lake provided new observations of lava lake behavior and open-vent basaltic outgassing. Data indicated that explosions were triggered by rockfalls from the crater walls, that the lake consisted of a low-density foamy lava, that cycles of gas pistoning were rooted at shallow depths in the lake, and that lake level fluctuations were closely tied to the pressure of the summit magma reservoir. Lava chemistry added further support for an efficient hydraulic connection between the summit and East Rift Zone. Notwithstanding the benefits to scientific understanding, the eruption presented a persistent hazard of volcanic air pollution (vog) that commonly extended far from Kīlauea’s summit.