2024 Southwest Rift Zone Eruption

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During an overflight at approximately 6 a.m., USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologists observed the fissures system that opened on the upper portion of the Southwest Rift Zone. Approximately half a mile (about 1 km) in length, only the southwest portion of the system was active by daylight.

A map showing the eruption site south of Kīlauea summit caldera.
This reference map depicts the approximate location of fissure vents that began erupting from Kīlauea Southwest Rift Zone at approximately 12:30 a.m. HST on June 3, 2024. The most recent eruption in this region was during December 1974, which lasted only about 6 hours.

USGS map

Breaking the Silence: Kīlauea's Southwest Rift Zone Erupts After Almost 50 Years

After nearly 50 years of dormancy, Kīlauea's Southwest Rift Zone erupted in the early hours of June 3, 2024, marking its first significant activity since December 1974. While the East Rift Zone has dominated headlines over the past four decades, with Puʻuʻōʻō's continuous eruption, the 2018 Leilani Estates event, and recent summit eruptions, the Southwest Rift Zone has often been overlooked. Extending southwest from Halemaʻumaʻu to the coast, this region received less attention despite its unique features, such as Puʻukoaʻe and the Kamakaiʻa hills.

The recent eruption stretches approximately 0.6 miles from a fissure system within Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Although initially dramatic with multiple active fissures, the eruption has since quieted, with only one fissure remaining active. The lava flows, though limited, have covered a modest area of a few thousand square meters.

The distinctive appearance of the Southwest Rift Zone, especially near Kīlauea's summit, is shaped by wind-swept, sandy, boulder-strewn explosive deposits from eruptions like the Keanakākoʻi tephra, beginning around 1500s. Despite its lesser-known status, the Southwest Rift Zone holds significant geological importance, offering insights into volcanic processes and historical eruptions dating back to the 19th century. Ongoing research continues to uncover the mysteries of this fascinating area, underscoring its potential for future volcanic activity.

A series of lava fountains at night.
December 1974 Eruption

The 1974 eruption of Kīlauea's Southwest Rift Zone featured intense seismic activity, multiple fissures, and extensive lava flows.

Hand-colored photo of lava moving through a forest landscape
1919-1920 Eruption of Maunaiki

The Maunaiki eruption in the Kaʻū Desert lasted from December 1919 to August 1920.


Southwest Rift Zone of Kīlauea

The Southwest Rift Zone of Kīlauea is a significant underground geological feature that extends from the volcano's summit southwestward towards the coast, approximately 5 kilometers southeast of the town of Pāhala. This rift zone is characterized by a network of fractures and fissures through which magma from the volcano's chamber can ascend to the surface during eruptions. It is one of two rift zones of Kīlauea that extends southward.

Illustration showing interor of Kīlauea volcano and southwest rift zone that extends 31 miles from the summit caldera. Magma travels from shallow reservoirs down the southwest rift zone to the eruption site near the summit caldera.

NPS Graphic


Last updated: June 3, 2024

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