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 green pond of water at the bottom of a volcanic crater
The body of water in Halemaʻumaʻu crater, as seen September 27th, 2019

Photo courtesy USGS - Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, K. Mulliken

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) Now Tracks Water at the Summit of Kīlauea

On August 1st, 2019, USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) scientist 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 recently moved one of its existing webcams to a site that provides a direct view of the pond. This temporary webcam doesn't have high enough resolution to discern small scale changes in the water level but will nevertheless be valuable for identifying larger scale events.

To measure the level of water in the ponds, HVO scientists use a long-range laser rangefinder. These daily measurements show that the water level has slowly risen. As of September 24th, the pond was about the size of a football field, including end zones—or about 110 m (360 ft) long, just over 50 m (164 ft) wide, and 10 m (33 ft) deep.

Direct sampling and chemical analyses of the water in Halema‘uma‘u would provide insight into its source—if it is a shallow accumulation of rainwater or the surface expression of a deeper-seated layer of groundwater. Some of the water could also be from condensed water vapor directly released by the magma. However, direct sampling is tricky given the hazardous location of the water.

Knowing the water's source will help us better understand the possible hazards associated with it. For instance, if the water is from the extensive zone of groundwater around the crater, it could be more likely to interact with rising magma and result in explosive activity.

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.
Thermal image of pond of water and fumaroles within Halema'uma'u crater
These images compare a normal photograph (left) with a thermal image (right) collected on Sunday, August 4. The white lines in the normal photo outline the area shown in the thermal image.

Photo courtesy USGS - Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologists were able to make additional observations of the water at the bottom of Halema‘uma‘u, including taking thermal images (as shown here), laser range finder measurements, and telephoto photographs.

Several hot fumaroles are present on the slopes within Halema‘uma‘u, with the hottest about 200 degrees Celsius (392 degrees Fahrenheit). The water pond at the bottom of the crater was about 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit).

Current Conditions Courtesy USGS - Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

Steaming water in Halema'uma'u crater
The New Look of Halema‘uma‘u on August 7th, 2019

Photo courtesy USGS - Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

Kīlauea Activity Summary:
Kīlauea Volcano is not erupting. Monitoring data continue to show steady rates of seismicity and ground deformation, low rates of sulfur dioxide emission, and only minor geologic changes since the end of eruptive activity in September 2018. Water continues to pond at the bottom of Halema'uma'u inside the summit caldera.

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

Observations: During the past week, approximately 100 small-magnitude earthquakes (all smaller than M2.2) were detected beneath the upper elevations of Mauna Loa. Most of the earthquakes occurred at shallow depths of less than 5 km (~3 miles) below ground level.

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

Readings of fumarole temperature and gas concentrations at the Sulphur Cone monitoring site on the Southwest Rift Zone remain stable, but are slightly elevated from measurements from several weeks ago due to repositioning and servicing of instrument sensors during maintenance in mid-September by HVO field crews.

Updates on the status of Mauna Loa Volcano will be issued each week on Thursdays until further notice.

For more information on current monitoring of Mauna Loa Volcano, see: https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/mauna_loa/monitoring_summary.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.



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