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Report on Kilauea (United States) — July 1991

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 16, no. 7 (July 1991)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Kilauea (United States) Continued E rift lava production; summit earthquake swarm

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1991. Report on Kilauea (United States) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 16:7. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199107-332010.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


United States

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The . . . eruption continued through July, as lava from Kupaianaha vent flowed into the sea. The surface of Kupaianaha's lava pond remained frozen, while lava was still active at the bottom of Pu`u `O`o crater. Nearly simultaneous earthquake swarms occurred in the summit areas of Kilauea and its larger neighbor Mauna Loa.

Eruptive activity. Lava from Kupaianaha was confined to tubes as it advanced down the upper slopes, where skylights at ~650 m (2,150-2,140 ft) elevation revealed an average velocity of ~1 m/s. Active surface flows were intermittently observed in a steeper area near 350 m (1,100 ft) elevation, and additional large surface flows emerged from the tube system between there and the coast through July. One large flow, active since June, advanced on top of the main (Wahaula) tube's E branch (figure 79). Its terminus was near 40 m (140 ft) elevation on 9 July. Although the flow front was wide with many active lobes, it did not reach the coast. Numerous small breakouts were active behind its front. Another flow emerged from a tube near 180 m (600 ft) elevation, moved downslope above the tube's W branch, and reached the coastal plain on 14 July. Two fluid pahoehoe lobes were advancing toward the coast on 16 July, moving past a kipuka at 35 m (120 ft) elevation. By the end of the month, the active flow front was > 400 m wide, and small breakouts from the flow were burning vegetation in Royal Gardens subdivision.

Despite the extensive surface activity, lava continued to pour into the sea from tubes at two main entries. The tube's W branch fed two active sites (at the Poupou entry). The littoral cone at the W Poupou site continued to erode, but erosion slowed toward the end of July as a bench growing outward below the littoral cone absorbed most of the waves' force. A cycle of bench erosion and rebuilding occurred repeatedly at the E Poupou site. Undercutting by wave action removed meter-sized blocks from the cliff face, and the resulting rapid collapse and erosion generated increased spatter activity, initiating construction of a new lower bench. At the entry fed by the E branch of the tube (Paradise), a prominent mid-bench scarp was noted on 4 July. Spatter was found draped over the scarp but none was evident on the lower portion of the bench, suggesting that the lower bench grew after the collapse episode. However, no seismic evidence of collapse was noted. The lower bench grew to within 1 m of the upper bench by 26 July. By the end of the month, the lava entry point shifted from the middle to the E side of the bench. Its W side began eroding and soon developed a cliff facing the ocean.

Seismicity. Continuous volcanic tremor persisted through July at the seismic stations nearest the eruption site and near the W ocean entry. Tremor amplitudes were generally low, although occasional brief bursts of higher amplitude tremor were recorded.

Earthquake activity beneath the summit appeared to have changed slightly since mid-late June. Shallow activity (0-5 km depth) had decreased, especially from the first 3 months of 1991. Daily visual scans of analog records since mid-June suggest that the dominant frequency content of shallow harmonic events had also changed, from 3-5 Hz to 1-3 Hz. The number of deeper (5-13 km) harmonic events fluctuated through July. Between 3 and 6 July, there were swarms of both shallow and deeper long-period events, then activity declined before a second, less intense swarm of intermediate-depth long-period events occurred on 11 July. This was followed first by an increase in shallower long-period activity, then a swarm of several hundred short-period microearthquakes on 13 July between 1400 and 2300, ~2 hours after the onset of a swarm under neighboring Mauna Loa. Almost all were too small for precise location. The 13 July seismicity was not associated with obvious eruptive changes, but geophysicists believe that it may indicate changes in magmatic activity or the state of stress beneath the summit.

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 and P. Okubo, HVO.