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Report on Kilauea (United States) — December 1995


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 20, no. 11 (December 1995)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Kilauea (United States) Surface lava flows, lava tubes, and ocean entries still active

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1995. Report on Kilauea (United States) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 20:11. Smithsonian Institution.


United States

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The East Rift Zone eruption continued in the last quarter of 1995 with lava erupting from the 780-m elevation flank vent next to the Pu`u `O`o cone (figure 98). The lava immediately entered subsurface tubes and traveled SE toward the coast, a distance of ~11 km.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 98. Map of recent lava flows from Kilauea's east rift zone, October 1995. Contours are in meters and the contour interval is approximately 150 m. Courtesy of the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Activity during 10 October-6 November. Most surface flows broke out from the tubes on the steep slope of Pulama Pali and on the coastal plain. Some of these flows burned vegetation and extended the flow field at the base of Pulama Pali several hundred meters E. On the flats at the coast, surface flows occurred just upslope from the ocean entry at Kamokuna, and also 1 km farther W, near the old Kamoamoa campground. A major bench collapse at the Kamokuna entry on 16-17 October was accompanied by explosive activity that built two littoral cones.

A portion of the crater floor in the Pu`u `O`o cone collapsed, leaving a pit ~50 m in diameter that was partially filled by a large rockslide from the base of the W crater wall. The timing of the pit formation probably coincided with seismic events either on 19 and/or 29 October. The lava pond rose to ~75 m below the N spillway. On the upper slope above Pulama Pali, new skylights in the roof of the lava tubes continued to appear and crust over rapidly. Surface flows in this area and on the slope of Pulama Pali were small and infrequent. Most of the lava traveled via lava tubes to the coastal plain on the E side of the Kamoamoa flow field. Isolated breakouts occurred in the central part of the flow field, below Paliuli. The ocean entry at Kamokuna continued to produce a large acidic plume. Interaction between lava and seawater was occasionally explosive and formed two littoral cones on the bench.

Eruption tremor levels remained relatively low with amplitudes ~2x background. Long-period events from both shallow- and intermediate-depth sources continued at low-moderate rates. The number of short period microearthquakes was low beneath the summit and rift zones.

Activity during 7 November-4 December. A brief pause during the night of 10-11 November was immediately preceded by increased shallow seismic tremor and slight summit deflation. By the morning of 11 November lava was no longer entering the ocean at Kamokuna; however, activity at the eruption vent and the Pu`u `O`o cone had already resumed. During the afternoon, the lava pond was very active, its level fluctuating at least 10-15 m within 30 minutes, with spattering up to a height of 30 m. By the following day, lava was once again entering the ocean. Since this short pause, the lava pond has maintained a level ~75 m below the N rim. The floor of the large collapse pit was partially resurfaced by new lava flows after the pause.

Surface flows on the lower slope of Pulama pali and on the coastal plain continued to expand the Kamoamoa flow field E into forest and grasslands. At the shoreline, advancing pahoehoe flows filled the gap created by Kupaianaha eruptions in 1992, at the E edge of the current Kamoamoa flow field. These flows have produced a new ocean entry ~500 m E of the Kamokuna entry.

A large bench at the West Kamokuna entry collapsed on 23 November. Sustained explosive activity on 26 November built a new littoral cone (3-4 m high) on the bench. Lava was entering the ocean at 2-3 locations along a new East Kamokuna bench, located inside the W edge of the old Kupaianaha flow field. Breakouts from the relatively immature tube system were continuously active on the coastal plain near this entry. An older tube continued to feed isolated breakouts in the middle of the Kamoamoa flow field. The long-lived skylight at 735 m elevation finally crusted over in late November, leaving the tube system completely sealed off for the first 4 km from the vent. However, new skylights continued to appear and crust over near the top of Pulama Pali.

Eruption tremor was low and relatively steady, with a few isolated increases in amplitude in banded patterns. Shallow, long-period microearthquakes were slightly above average on 11, 12, and 16 November, with daily counts of nearly 100. Intermediate-depth, long-period counts were high on 2 and 3 December. Short-period summit and rift microearthquake counts were low.

Activity during 5 December-1 January. Small surface breakouts were observed high on Pulama Pali and on the coastal plain. The West Kamokuna entry occupied a large, mature bench; on 12 December, explosive activity at this entry built a new littoral cone. The East Kamokuna entry continued building a new bench. A pause in the eruption began at 1500 on 14 December and lasted until midnight on 15-16 December. The plume from the ocean entries stopped completely by 16 December. When the eruption resumed, lava again flowed through the existing tube system and reached the ocean at West Kamokuna bench on the afternoon of 17 December. The East Kamokuna entry was not reactivated after the pause.

Just prior to the 14-16 December pause, only a solid crust was visible where the Pu`u `O`o lava pond had been, at 80-90 m below the rim. By 19 December the lava pond had risen to ~68 m below the rim of the cone and was actively circulating. The pond level then subsided several meters and stabilized by 28 December. Surface flows occurred high on Pulama Pali, between 675 and 570 m elevation, and in the area from the 300-m elevation on Pulama Pali, down to the far eastern side of the flow field, to the coastal plain and ocean entry. Flows moved E into the grassland and brush near the base of Pulama Pali. A single ocean entry at West Kamokuna was active in late December, where a major collapse between 30 December and 1 January took out a section of the bench ~50-70 x 200-300 m in surface area, including several littoral cones. Explosive activity was observed at the ocean entry both before and after the collapse, but the most energetic and spectacular activity was reported on 1 January, immediately following the bench collapse. This activity included lava bubble burst and spatter and tephra ejections to heights estimated at 60 m. These explosions built a new littoral cone.

Eruption tremor levels remained low at ~2-3x the background. Shallow, long-period (LPC-A, 3-5 Hz) microearthquake counts were high on 5 December and again from 15-18 December. On the 15th and 16th, LPC-A counts were 200/day, gradually diminishing on the 17th and 18th. Shallow, long period (LPC-B, 1-3 Hz) microearthquakes were also high in number during 16-18 December, peaking on the 17th, with more than 150 events counted. Both types of LPC events are from a source 0-5 km in depth. They differ in frequency, suggesting a possible change in the condition of the source.

Shallow summit activity continued in the second half of December, with many hundreds of long-period (LPC-B, 0-3 Hz) events per day. The high counts peaked on 22 and 24 December with daily totals of 1,730 and 1,346, respectively. By 26 December, LPC-B counts appeared to be decreasing, while a slight increase of LPC-A was noted. The increase of shallow activity was coincident with the mid-December eruptive pause. Microearthquake counts were below average.

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: Dave Clague, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), U.S. Geological Survey, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI 96718, USA.