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Report on Kilauea (United States) — May 1991

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 16, no. 5 (May 1991)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Kilauea (United States) E rift lava continues to flow through tubes into the ocean

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1991. Report on Kilauea (United States) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 16:5. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199105-332010.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


United States

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Lava . . . continued to flow into the sea at two sites on the W side of the flow field (figure 79). More than 95% of the lava advanced through the Wahaula tube system, which divided a few hundred meters from the coast and fed the W and E entry points in the Poupou area. The W Poupou entry has been persistently explosive, continuing to throw tephra onto a large littoral cone on the old sea cliff. Growth of the littoral cone halted in May as erosional mechanisms (weather and cliff collapse) kept pace with explosive activity at the lava/sea interface. Below the old sea cliff, the W entry had built a small bench that extended <10-15 m into the ocean and was easily broken up by high surf. The E branch of the tube continued to feed the E Poupou entry points, which in previous months had built a sizeable 2-level bench below the old sea cliff. Throughout May, there were at least two major entry points off this bench. In early May, fluid lava flows broke out onto the E bench from its junction with the old sea cliff, covering the W side of the bench and entering the ocean. Successive overflows and inflation (perhaps caused by lava underplating) continued to build the lower bench, and by the end of the month it was within 1-2 m of the upper bench.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 79. Lava produced by Kilauea's Kupaianaha vent, 1983-91. Arrows indicate flow in tubes and crosses at the coast mark sites where lava was entering the ocean in May 1991. Surface flows are shown above the tube's E and W branches. Courtesy of HVO.

Small lava flows broke out during May from the Wahaula tube between ~180 m (600 ft) elevation and the flat area near the coast. Two large flows were active. One (Waiaka) moved downslope atop the Wahaula tube in April, turning E off the tube near the coast and entering the ocean 17 April-2 May. This flow's activity declined during the first 2 weeks in May, and the flow was stagnant by the 16th. In mid-May, a new (Paradise) flow broke away from the Wahaula tube between 150 and 180 m elevation (500-600 ft) and established a new tube to the E. By the end of May, this flow was entering the ocean at the same site as the Waiaka flow.

A lava pond remained in the bottom of Pu`u `O`o crater through May. Kupaianaha's lava pond remained completely crusted over. Fume from the pond area diminished significantly, and the primary area of degassing shifted from the Kupaianaha shield area to a skylight in the tube system near 620 m (2,050 ft) elevation. In early May, all of the skylights along the Wahaula tube overflowed, closing some of those at lower elevations. The upper skylights remained open, and observations of times required for logs thrown into the upper skylight to reach the lower skylight yielded lava velocities of 1.4 m/s.

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. Moulds, HVO.