Article

Lava Lakes

photo of a lava lake
The lava lake in Halema‘uma‘u, a pit crater in the Kīlauea caldera In Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

USGS photo by L. Gallant. November 9, 2021.

Introduction

Lava lakes are lakes of molten or solidified lava in volcanic craters or depressions. They may form when a vent or crater becomes partially filled with molten lava.

Most lava lakes are comprised of basaltic lavas.

Shield volcanoes may have lakes of molten or solidified lava in their summit calderas. Lava lakes may also form in other vents in basaltic volcanic centers and sometimes in pahoehoe lava flows that have pooled. Long-lasting lava lakes like the ones that have occurred in Halema‘uma‘u in the Kīlauea caldera In Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park are relatively rare. These lakes are sustained by an open connection to a shallow magma chamber. At Kīlauea, changes in the level of the lava lake in Halema‘uma‘u is the result of changes in the pressure in the upper part of the magma chamber beneath it.

photo of a glowing lava lake taken at night
The lava lake in Halemaʻumaʻu on January 3, 2021.

USGS photo.

National Park Lava Lakes

At least four national parks contain lava lakes, including:

Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico

Several lava lakes formed in Capulin Volcano’s boca (the vent area at the base of the cinder cone that fed the lava flows) during its eruption about 54,200 years ago. Spatter deposits formed on the edges of the lakes where bits of still molten lava landed after they were tossed into the air due to vesiculation (bubbling) in the lava lake.

hummocky terrain hummocky terrain

Left image
View of Capulin Volcano’s boca, taken from the rim of the volcano. Two lava lakes, spatter deposits and a piece of the cinder cone that was rafted away during the eruption are visible.
Credit: Photo by Allyson Mathis.

Right image
Image with feature labels.
Credit: Figure by Allyson Mathis.

Craters of the Moon National Monument

Several lava lakes are found near vents or in craters in Craters of the Moon National Monument. The lava lakes have very little surface relief and are usually bordered by levees.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Persistent lava lakes have been present in the calderas and in other vents of Mauna Loa and Kīlauea (the shield volcanoes in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park) at various times in the volcanoes’ histories.

photo illustration of floating islands of hardened lava on a lava lake shown in 1917 and 2021
Lava lakes have occurred in Halema‘uma‘u in the Kīlauea caldera at several times in the past. The image above shows floating islands, or rafts, of solidified lava in lava lakes in 1917 and 1921. USGS graphic. Photographer is unknown for the 1917 image.

The 2021 photograph is by K. Mulliken.

Kīlauea

Halema‘uma‘u, the pit crater in the Kīlauea summit caldera, has contained persistent lava lakes repeatedly, including during the 2008 to 2018 summit eruption. This active lava lake was drained by the vigorous eruption at the lower East Rift Zone that ended the long-lasting summit eruption, and caused collapse and subsidence in the summit caldera. Halema‘uma‘u has also hosted active lava lakes during short eruptions during 1967-1968, 1952, the early 1930s, and the 1920s. For much of the 1800s and the early 1920s, Halema‘uma‘u contained an active lava lake.

two thermal images of a lava lake
Thermal images of the lava lake in the Halema‘uma‘u pit crater in the Kīlauea caldera In Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park in September and October 2021. Dark areas are rafts of cooled and solidified magmas that are present on the surface of the lake.

USGS images.

photo of a volcanic crater and lava lake with features labeled
Annotated image of the lava lake in Halemaʻumaʻu on December 30, 2020.

USGS photo by K. Lynn.

A lava lake was intermittently present in Pu‘u‘ō‘ō, the vent on Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone that was active from 1983 to 2018.

Lava lakes have also formed in other vents on Kīlauea, such as the lava lake in Kīlauea Iki, a crater near the summit caldera during its eruption in 1959.

photo of a lava fountain eruption and a lava lake
Lava lake in Kīlauea Iki, a crater near the summit caldera, during its eruption in 1959.

USGS photo.

Mauna Loa

Lava lakes have been present during historical eruptions in Moku‘āweoweo, Mauna Loa’s caldera. The most recent eruption that produced a lava lake occurred in 1940.

Featured Video

USGS—Kīlauea Summit Lava Lake (April 17, 2021)

screen capture of video viewer showing a lava lake
Click on image above to go to USGS video.

National Parks with Lava Lakes


Part of a series of articles titled Volcanic Features.

Previous: Fumaroles

Capulin Volcano National Monument, Craters Of The Moon National Monument & Preserve, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Lava Beds National Monument

Last updated: May 11, 2022