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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.
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.
In recent media interviews, HVO scientists have discussed how the presence of water could increase the potential for explosive activity given the right set of conditions. At the current time, however, monitoring data do not indicate any signs of imminent unrest at Kīlauea's summit.
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 the size of a football field, about 110 meters long (360 feet) by 50 meters wide (164 feet) and about 10 meters (33 feet) deep, rising in the bottom of the former Halema‘uma‘u Crater, about 600 meters (1,969 feet) below the western caldera rim. 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.
Current Conditions Courtesy USGS - Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
Preliminary summary of Kīlauea Volcano’s 2018 lower East Rift Zone eruption and summit collapse (pdf 10.2MB)
Kīlauea Summit - Then and Now
Kīlauea summit on November 28, 2008 Photo courtesy USGS - Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
Kīlauea summit on August 1, 2018 Photo courtesy USGS - Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
Kīlauea Summit - Before & After
NASA image taken on January 14, 2003
USGS photo taken on August 7, 2018
Last updated: November 14, 2019