What's Going On With The Volcanoes?

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In 2018, a new eruption of Kīlauea volcano changed the island of Hawai‘i forever. From May through August, large lava flows covered land southeast of the park destroying over 700 homes and devastating residential areas in the Puna District. At the same time, the summit area of the park was dramatically changed by tens of thousands of earthquakes, towering ash plumes, and a massive collapse of Kīlauea caldera.


A greenish yellow body of water inside a crater
The body of water in Halemaʻumaʻu crater on October 26th, 2019 (NPS Photo/J. Wei)
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) Now Tracks Water at the Summit of Kīlauea

On August 1st, 2019, USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) scientists confirmed a growing pond of water inside Halema'uma'u crater during a helicopter overflight. Similar to the monitoring of ponded lava in Halema‘uma‘u in 2008‒2018, HVO scientists are now relying on both direct observations and modern tools to monitor and document any changes to the water.

The water in Halema‘uma‘u is not visible from publicly accessible areas of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, but HVO now has webcams that provide a direct view of the pond. To measure the level of water in the ponds, HVO scientists use a long-range laser rangefinder.
An unmanned aircraft system carrying a water container hanging by rope in a volcanic crater
An unmanned aircraft system, UAS, flown to gather photographs, gas measurements and a water sample from the scalding hot surface of the pond in Halemaʻumaʻu crater on October 26th, 2019

NPS Photo/A. LaValle

On October 26, our colleagues at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory took the next step in unlocking the secrets of this body of water. They launched a specialized unmanned aircraft system, UAS, that gathered photographs, gas measurements and a water sample from its scalding hot surface.

On November 7, USGS noted that "Early results indicate that the sample has a pH of 4.2 (moderately acidic, in the range of many fruit juices) and high concentrations of dissolved sulfur and magnesium"

The lake is now larger than a football field, about 190 meters long (620 feet) by 84 meters wide (280 feet) and about 23 meters (75 feet) deep, rising in the bottom of the former Halema‘uma‘u Crater. The water pond at the bottom of the crater was about 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit).

Using a UAS is the safest way to gather this groundbreaking research. Although scientists are confident the lake is the rising water table known to exist within Kīlauea, never before in modern history has there been water visible at the summit of Kīlauea in the form of a lake. USGS performed its innovative mission with support and approval from Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
A volcanic crater with a pond, surrounded by plumes of gas
Halemaʻumaʻu crater, October 26th, 2019 (NPS Photo/A. LaValle)

Current Conditions Courtesy USGS - Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

Thursday, January 9th, 2020

Volcanic caldera will small plumes of steam
Kīlauea caldera (NPS Photo/A. LaValle)

Kīlauea Activity Summary: Kīlauea Volcano is not erupting. Monitoring data for December show variable rates of seismicity and ground deformation, low rates of sulfur dioxide emissions, and only minor geologic changes since the end of eruptive activity in September 2018.

Observations: Monitoring data have shown no significant changes in volcanic activity during December.

Rates of seismicity over the month were variable but within long term vales. Sulfur dioxide emission rates are low at the summit and are below detection limits at Puʻu ʻŌʻō and the lower East Rift Zone. The pond at the bottom of Halema'uma'u, which began forming on July 25, 2019, continues to slowly expand and deepen. As of early January, dimensons are: 84 meters by 190 meters or approximately 280 feet by 620 feet. Current depth is about 23 meters or 75 feet.

For more current monitoring info about Kīlauea, see: https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/kilauea/status.html

Full moon over Mauna Loa volcano
Full moon over Mauna Loa (NPS Photo/J. Wei)

Mauna Loa Activity Summary: Mauna Loa Volcano is not erupting. Rates of deformation and seismicity have not changed significantly over the past week and remain above long-term background levels.

Observations: During the past week, HVO seismometers recorded 52 small magnitude earthquakes beneath the upper elevations of the volcano. Most earthquakes occurred at shallow depths of less than 5 km (~3 miles) beneath the volcano.

Global Positioning System (GPS) and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) measurements show continued slow summit inflation, consistent with magma supply to the volcano's shallow storage system.

Gas concentrations at the Sulphur Cone monitoring site on the Southwest Rift Zone remain stable. Fumarole temperatures as measured at both Sulphur Cone and the summit have not changed significantly.

For more current monitoring info about Mauna Loa, see: https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/mauna_loa/status.html

Kīlauea Summit - Then and Now
Kīlauea summit on November 28, 2008 Kīlauea summit on August 1, 2018
Kīlauea summit on November 28, 2008 Photo courtesy USGS - Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
Kīlauea summit on August 1, 2018 Photo courtesy USGS - Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
USGS - Hawaiian Volcano Observatory: Then and now. It has proven difficult to exactly match past and present views of Kīlauea's summit to show the dramatic changes in the volcanic landscape, but here's our latest attempt. At left is a photo taken on November 28, 2008, with a distinct gas plume rising from the vent that had opened within Halema‘uma‘u about eight months earlier. At right is a photo taken on August 1, 2018, to approximate the 2008 view for comparison.

Kīlauea Summit - Before & After
NASA image taken on January 14, 2003 USGS photo taken on August 7, 2018
NASA image taken on January 14, 2003
USGS photo taken on August 7, 2018
 Drag center circle/line left and right to reveal the before and after photos.


Last updated: January 14, 2020

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