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Report on Kilauea (United States) — February 1992


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 17, no. 2 (February 1992)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Kilauea (United States) Continued lava production from East rift fissure vents; magma intrusion into upper East rift

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1992. Report on Kilauea (United States) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 17:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199202-332010


United States

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Lava production from a fissure that extended ~150 m uprift from the lower W flank of Pu`u `O`o began during the evening of 17 February (E-50; 17:1). The small lava lake in Pu`u `O`o crater dropped ~40 m as E-50 began, and the lava surface remained ~80 m below the rim until 19 February, when it rose ~15 m. Lava from the E-50 fissure flowed N and S from the axis of the East rift zone (figure 85). By 19 February, only ~30 m of the fissure was active. The next day, the S flow had stagnated, and all of the lava from the fissure was moving N, where it formed a large ponded area fed by a channel 10 m wide. Overflows from the ponded lava built levees that were 7 m high by 21 February. Lava broke out of the N side of the ponded area on 21 and 22 February, as the eruption rate declined and lava in the channel dropped to a few meters below the levees. The channel had narrowed to ~3.5 m by 23 February. A large flow began to advance southward on 25 February. It stagnated within a few days, but new flows continued to move S atop previous lava.

When observed on 28 February, a thick crust had formed over the lava in Pu`u `O`o crater, although occasional spattering was noted on its margins. Gas-piston activity resumed at the beginning of March, and two separate vents were visible when the lava level was low.

An earthquake swarm in the summit area and upper East rift zone began on 3 March at about 0000. An hour later, the summit began to deflate at a rate of ~0.5 µrad/hour as an intrusion . . . roughly 4-6 km from the caldera rim (between Devil's Throat and Pauahi Crater). Small cracks developed in Chain of Craters Road, but no eruption occurred in the area. By 0930, summit tilt had leveled off. Seismic activity declined through the day, although > 3,000 events were recorded by 5 March at 0800. Activity at the E-50 vent had stopped by 0130, and later observations revealed that the level of lava in Pu`u `O`o crater had dropped to > 100 m below the rim. The large northern aa flow continued to advance sluggishly for much of the day, but stagnated by 1600, and the episode-50 eruption site remained quiet until 7 March.

Episode 51 (E-51). Eruption tremor remained near background levels in the middle East rift zone until shortly before noon on 7 March, when a 1-hour burst of increased activity was noted on the seismic station nearest Pu`u `O`o. At 1340, a helicopter pilot saw lava pouring from a new fissure near the E-50 vents, while the level of lava in Pu`u `O`o crater had risen to ~55 m below the rim. Lava production from the E-51 fissure was intermittent through the evening, but was continuous by 9 March, at rates that appeared slightly less than during E-50 and substantially below those of episode 49. The E-51 fissure appeared to overlap the E edge of the E-50 fissure and extended ~30 m to its E, on the steep W flank of Pu`u `O`o. By 9 March, a spatter cone 6 m high had formed, and lava was ponding on the W side of the fissure. Some flows moved N from the ponded area, but most of the lava fed channelized aa and slabby pahoehoe flows that moved S. Intermittent lava production from the E-51 vent continued through mid-March.

Geological Summary. 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.