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Views of a century of activity at Kīlauea Caldera—A visual essay

January 7, 2021

The 2018 eruption of Kīlauea Volcano marked the end of the first sustained period of volcanic activity at Halemaʻumaʻu Crater in 94 years. The views of the lava lake (informally named “Overlook,” nestled within Halemaʻumaʻu) lasted for a decade and seemed timeless. But as we were recently reminded, the summit of Kīlauea is part of a dynamic system that has provided countless new views to observers over the centuries.

This visual essay features a few of the many scenes recorded by early observers at the volcano, from the first visits by westerners in 1823 through the explosive eruption of 1924. The early images left by casual visitors, artists, and photographers raise many questions: What is shown? Where is this? Who captured the scene and when? How accurate is the portrayal? Where possible, we attempt to answer these questions and provide interpretations of the images featured.

In 1912, the nature of observations at Kīlauea changed when Thomas A. Jaggar, Jr., and others occupied the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory on a full-time basis. They began a visual and written record of what they saw, heard, and experienced that has continued to this day. We describe some of the early work of these scientists and photographers, and showcase the results.