Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Submarine lava deltas of the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano

March 11, 2021

Hawaiian and other ocean island lava flows that reach the coastline can deposit significant volumes of lava in submarine deltas. The catastrophic collapse of these deltas represents one of the most significant, but least predictable, volcanic hazards at ocean islands. The volume of lava deposited below sea level in delta-forming eruptions and the mechanisms of delta construction and destruction are rarely documented. Here, we report on bathymetric surveys and ROV observations following the Kīlauea 2018 eruption that, along with a comparison to the deltas formed at Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō over the past decade, provide new insight into delta formation. Bathymetric differencing reveals that the 2018 deltas contain more than half of the total volume of lava erupted. In addition, we find that the 2018 deltas are comprised largely of coarse-grained volcanic breccias and intact lava flows, which contrast with those at Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō that contain a large fraction of fine-grained hyaloclastite. We attribute this difference to less efficient fragmentation of the 2018 ‘a‘ā flows leading to fragmentation by collapse rather than hydrovolcanic explosion. We suggest a mechanistic model where the characteristic grain size influences the form and stability of the delta with fine grain size deltas (Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō) experiencing larger landslides with greater run-out supported by increased pore pressure and with coarse grain size deltas (Kīlauea 2018) experiencing smaller landslides that quickly stop as the pore pressure rapidly dissipates. This difference, if validated for other lava deltas, would provide a means to assess potential delta stability in future eruptions.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Submarine lava deltas of the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano
DOI 10.1007/s00445-020-01424-1
Authors Adam Soule, Michael H. Zoeller, Carolyn Parcheta
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Bulletin of Volcanology
Index ID 70219168
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Science Center