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Report on Kilauea (United States) — September 1991

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 16, no. 9 (September 1991)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Kilauea (United States) Numerous surface flows break out from tubes, then lava stops entering ocean; lava lake active

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1991. Report on Kilauea (United States) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 16:9. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199109-332010.

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United States

19.421°N, 155.287°W; summit elev. 1222 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Frequent breakouts . . . fed numerous surface lava flows between ~450 m (1,500 ft) altitude and the coast during September. Some lobes advanced rapidly downslope, but upon reaching the more level area near the coast they generally inflated, oozed small viscous breakouts, then stagnated. New flows covered previously untouched portions of Royal Gardens subdivision, and started a 1-day brush fire in a nearby section of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The numerous breakouts and surface flows apparently reduced lava supply to the ocean entries, since all were inactive by late September. Lava had ceased to reach the sea by 3 September at the eastern of the two main ocean entries (Paradise). Two kilometers to the SW (at Poupou), lava had been flowing into the ocean at two points. A 1-2-m tumulus developed atop Poupou's E lava bench on 4 September, and extruded small, very viscous flows through cracks before all activity stopped at the E entry point 2 days later. Lava continued to pour into the ocean at the W Poupou entry point for the next 2 weeks. On 19 September, a very viscous pahoehoe flow broke out from its main feeder tube <500 m inland, in an area of inflated and fractured ground, remaining active for a few days before stagnating. Lava stopped flowing into the sea on 20 September, when small collapses of the bench front exposed hot rock to seawater, creating short-lived steam plumes. Entry of lava into the sea had not resumed as of early October, but surface flows from breakouts between 30 and 300 m elevation spread over a broad area.

Little surface activity was evident at Kupaianaha vent, source of the lava for the main tube system, although a skylight in the neck of its frozen lava pond was open on 7 September, and heavy fuming and a glowing crack were visible on the uprift edge of the pond on the 17th. Three km uprift, an 80 x 50 m lava pond covered ~15% of the floor of Pu`u `O`o crater during most of September, and frequent overflows sent lava across the crater bottom, ~36 m below the 1986 spillway. During 1.5 hours of observations from the crater rim on 17 September, vigorous upwelling of lava occurred on the downrift side of the pond while continuous spattering on the pond's N side added to its 2-3-m-high spatter rampart. Two episodes of strong degassing were characterized by vigorous upwelling and spattering followed by roughly 2-3 m of rapid drainback. Pond level was high and the entire crater floor was typically covered by overflows before drainback episodes. Seismic instruments registered tremor during the degassing episodes, which were sometimes precipitated by collapses from the crater walls. On 28 September, lava in the pond withdrew to >15 m below the crater floor. After at least 5 hours of inactivity, a small vent opened on the crater floor and a cascade of lava poured into the drained pond, filling it to within a meter of the crater floor by the next day. The vent remained open and intermittently active, sending lava across the crater floor and into the pond. The vent continued to feed periodic overflows the following week, and the crater floor was covered with lava during observations on 4 October.

Geologic Background. Kilauea, which overlaps the E flank of the massive Mauna Loa shield volcano, has been Hawaii's most active volcano during historical time. Eruptions are prominent in Polynesian legends; written documentation extending back to only 1820 records frequent summit and flank lava flow eruptions that were interspersed with periods of long-term lava lake activity that lasted until 1924 at Halemaumau crater, within the summit caldera. The 3 x 5 km caldera was formed in several stages about 1500 years ago and during the 18th century; eruptions have also originated from the lengthy East and SW rift zones, which extend to the sea on both sides of the volcano. About 90% of the surface of the basaltic shield volcano is formed of lava flows less than about 1100 years old; 70% of the volcano's surface is younger than 600 years. A long-term eruption from the East rift zone that began in 1983 has produced lava flows covering more than 100 km2, destroying nearly 200 houses and adding new coastline to the island.

Information Contacts: T. Mattox, HVO.