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Report on Kilauea (United States) — May 1990

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 15, no. 5 (May 1990)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Kilauea (United States) E Rift eruption pauses briefly, then lava destroys more homes

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1990. Report on Kilauea (United States) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 15:5. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199005-332010.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


United States

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Kilauea's . . . eruption continued through mid-June, and lava destroyed most of the remaining buildings in a coastal subdivision. Substantial variations in seismic activity were associated with changes in eruptive behavior.

Lava flows remained active in early May, while summit instruments registered a gradual increase in volcanic tremor from the beginning of May through the 5th. About two days after tremor began to build, more rapid tremor increases were detected . . . near Pu`u `O`o and Kupaianaha vents. A sharp jump in summit tremor amplitude during the afternoon of 6 May accompanied rapid summit deflation. Lava production halted the next day, and summit tremor level remained high until the eruption resumed on 9 May. Tremor amplitude then declined rapidly accompanied by a sharp increase in summit microearthquake counts, which continued at moderate levels for the next 4 days, then decreased later in the month.

Lava from the renewed activity . . . crossed the coast highway during the night of 17-18 May, entered Kalapana Gardens, and destroyed a house there the next day. The May flow was forced E by April lava, which formed a barrier to its south (figure 69). Homes along the N side of the April flow were overrun, and by the time lava had moved beyond the April flow's E margin, most of the remaining buildings in Kalapana Gardens had been destroyed. Lava did not reach the ocean in May, instead filling a large low-lying area E of the April flow (NW of Harry K. Brown Park).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 69. The Kalapana area on Kilauea's S flank, May 1990. April flows are outlined by a heavy line; diagonal shading marks May lava. Courtesy of Will Bussard.

On 28 May, instruments began to record sharp summit deflation, a precursor of previous pauses in the eruption, followed after a few hours by increased summit tremor (which had been building gradually since 9 May) and earthquakes. The next day, only sporadic activity was evident from coastal lava flows. Little eruptive activity was apparent during the day on the 30th, but summit earthquakes had begun to decrease by 1400, and at around 1800 lava began to emerge from the main tube at roughly 600 m (1,950 ft.) elevation. A small breakout was seen at 60 m elevation (200 ft.) at 1950, and by the next morning at 0700, additional significant breakouts were occurring below Hwy 130 in Kalapana Gardens. Lava arrived at the coast, probably on 2 June, but barely reached the open ocean, spreading along the beach in an area of shallow tide pools. Active lava ponds were observed in both Kupaianaha and Pu`u `O`o after the resumption of eruptive activity, but most of the pond in Kupaianaha remained crusted over.

Continued lava flows overran several more homes in the NW part of Kalapana Gardens. As of 10 June, only two homes were still standing in the subdivision below the highway while seven remained unscathed above the highway. All but three houses had been destroyed in the older coastal community of Kalapana. All of these homes were at risk from the continuing activity.

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: C. Heliker and P. Okubo, HVO.