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Report on Kilauea (United States) — January 1996

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 21, no. 1 (January 1996)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Kilauea (United States) Eruptive pulse on 1 February almost results in a summit eruption

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1996. Report on Kilauea (United States) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 21:1. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199601-332010.

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 on the East Rift Zone continued in January with the usual activity consisting of surface lava flows and lava traveling through tubes to enter the ocean. However, an unusual event on 1 February almost resulted in a summit eruption. Following this event an eruptive pause began that continued through mid-February.

Normal activity in January. Surface flows during the first two weeks of January covered ~4 km2 on the E side of the Kamoamoa flow field. On the slopes of Pulama pali, lava breakouts followed the E margin of older flows as far as 1 km, sometimes burning adjacent forest and grassland. On the coastal plain, inflating sheet flows were widespread. At the West Kamokuna entry the bench was rebuilt following the collapse of 1 January (BGVN 20:11/12), and two littoral cones were created.

The Great Pit, a collapse pit on the SW slope of Pu`u `O`o cinder cone, was enlarged by several collapses since late December, expanding toward a second collapse pit over an Episode-51 vent. This vent, which has continued to issue lava during the current Episode 53, is connected to the Pu`u `O`o lava pond; a series of collapses in recent months defined a line from this pit across the rim of the cone to the lava pond inside and probably resulted from breakdown of the roof in the underlying plumbing system.

Almost daily explosive activity at the Kamokuna bench in the second half of January included bubble bursts and spattering to 50 m height, as well as steam and ash jetting to 150 m. On 25 January a small collapse removed a 40 × 100 m area of the lower bench, along with part of a littoral cone. The collapsed area was rebuilt within three days, and explosive activity constructed a new littoral cone. On the night of 30 January a large bench collapse at Kamokuna occurred over a period of six hours, during which time approximately 800 × 200 m of the bench slid into the ocean accompanied by frequent explosions that threw blocks as far as 300 m inland. Lava flows were continually active on the slope of Pulama pali, particularly around the base and on the coastal plain within 1.5 km of the ocean entry. Pahoehoe flows burning into forest and brush caused loud and abundant methane explosions. Lava flows on the coastal plain advanced E to within 500 m of the Royal Gardens access road.

Eruption tremor remained low with minor, irregular variations. Tremor amplitudes in the second half of January measured ~2x the background level on the STC seismic station near Pu`u `O`o. Shallow, long-period activity at the summit was about average. Short-period microearthquake counts were low beneath the summit and rift zones.

Eruptive pulse of 1 February. Unusual and dramatic activity started on the morning of 1 February with a large increase in shallow tremor at the summit caldera and rapid inflation of the summit, suggesting that an eruption from the summit or upper East Rift Zone might be imminent. As a result, most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, including the local airspace, was closed for several hours. However, no new ground cracks or eruptive fissures formed. Instead, the increase in tremor was followed three hours later by an order-of-magnitude increase in the volume of lava flowing into tubes from the vent on the flank of Pu`u `O`o cone.

Excess pressure in the tube system caused the lava to gush out of four skylights, forming dome fountains at 735, 720, 695, and 675 m elevations. Prior to this event, no surface flows had occurred above 675 m since early 1993. Heights of the fountains in mid-afternoon were 1.8-7.6 m. Lava from the largest fountain formed a channelized flow that ran E into the forest, and then descended Pulama pali as a fast-moving aa flow. Inside Pu`u `O`o, the actively circulating lava pond rose to at least 60 m below the rim, and sloshed another 15-20 m higher. Spatter from the pond was thrown 50 m beyond the S crater rim.

Over the next three days, the level of activity gradually decreased. The Pu`u `O`o lava pond exhibited cycles of influx and drainback, but remained relatively deep (65-80 m below the rim). Lava flows from the skylights started and stopped, as did surface flows on the coastal plain. The Kamokuna ocean entry paused for 11 hours on 2 February, probably because of blockage in the tube system, and then flowed at diminished volume on 3-4 February. Late on 4 February the eruption stopped. Sometime during the next night, an explosion in the Great Pit blasted out fragments (up to fist-size) of mostly reddish oxidized rock. The smaller fragments were carried ~9.5 km NE by Kona winds. The pause continued through 12 February.

The change in lava effusion rate was attended by an episodic increase in gas release. Fumaroles at the summit and East Rift Zone showed abnormally high CO2 levels starting on 1 February, possibly reflecting a pulse of gas-rich magma. Ambient SO2 in the HVO parking lot topped 4 ppm on 2 February and was greater than 1 ppm near the NPS Visitors Center. SO2 emission rates measured near the eruption site were as high as 2,000 metric tons/day on 2 February. SO2 emission rates and fumarole chemistry from the summit and east rift were approaching near-normal for an eruptive pause by 12 February.

Seismicity and deformation. Tremor amplitudes remained at 2-3x background level until the morning of 1 February. Shortly after 0800, tremor on the STC station gradually increased; summit seismicity increased at the same time. Tremor, as well as a swarm of shallow, short-period earthquakes, registered on the summit seismic stations as a result of the intrusive episode. Several hundred microearthquakes were counted. Seismicity at the summit began to subside shortly after noon with a notable decrease in summit tremor and short-period earthquakes. An increase of shallow and intermediate long-period earthquakes followed. By 1600, tremor amplitudes on the STC station were high and remained relatively steady until about 1200 on 2 February. Tremor amplitudes again increased on 3 February at 0700 and remained at elevated levels until 0200 on the 4th. From then through 12 February amplitudes fluctuated in banded patterns of a few minutes to a few hours of increased tremor, alternating with low- level tremor.

The Uwekahuna short-base water-tube tiltmeter recorded summit inflation, with ~11 µrads of N-S tilt and ~15 µrads of E-W tilt during the seismic swarm of 1 February; the maximum tilt was read at 1246. Summit deflation followed at a rate of ~1.5 µrads/hour, coincident with the increase in activity at Pu`u `O`o. By 0830 on 2 February, the E-W component had recovered to the pre-swarm level of deflation and the N-S component to ~2/3 of the pre-swarm level. A permanent-glass EDM monitor spanning the summit caldera of Kilauea from the flank of Mauna Loa to the Kalanaokuaiki fault recorded the maximum extension between the N caldera rim and a site 1 km S of Halemaumau. This was also the area in which the earthquake swarm was localized. Measurements on 6 February showed contraction to pre-swarm values in conjunction with the summit deflation.

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