Logo link to homepage

Report on Kilauea (United States) — November 2003


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 28, no. 11 (November 2003)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke.

Kilauea (United States) Moderate seismicity and minor activity on the lava-flow field

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2003. Report on Kilauea (United States) (Venzke, E., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 28:11. Smithsonian Institution.


United States

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Through September and into early October, lava was moving along the E and W sides of the Mother's Day flow. The E-side lava (known as the 9 August breakout) came from the 9 August rootless shield (see figure 2 in BGVN 28:09), itself fed by the main Mother's Day tube from Pu`u `O`o. The W side lava, known as the Kohola arm of the Mother's Day flow, branched off the tube system below the rootless shield. In early October the 9 August breakout stopped, the Kohola died back to a trickle, and the rootless shield gained prominence. By 16 October, however, the shield had partly collapsed, leaving several drained perched ponds behind. Upstream from the shield, many hornitos and small flows formed over the Mother's Day tube.

During 1-7 October, surface lava flows were sometimes visible on Kilauea's coastal flat and upslope areas. On 2 October lava began to flow W after filling West Gap Pit on the W flank of Pu`u `O`o cone. Fairly vigorous spattering was visible in the pit, but died to only sporadic bursts later in the day. The flow appeared to have stopped by 4 October when no glow was observed coming from the pit. During 8 October-17 November, a few areas of surface lava were visible upslope of Kilauea's coastal flat. On 5 November, two small breakouts occurred. The freshly escaping lava was seen on the Kohola arm of the Mother's Day flow just below the top of Pulama pali. Observers watching a 30-40-m-diameter crater on the SW side of Pu`u `O`o noted a new lava pond, a new lava flow, and a fuming cone-pit. Visits to active flow fields on 7 November resulted in observations of hornitos, a 200-m-wide rootless shield, and the leading edge of a 45-m-wide flow.

Seismicity at the summit continued at moderate levels, with 1-2 small low-frequency earthquakes per minute occurring at shallow depths beneath the summit caldera during October and November 2003. Volcanic tremor at Pu`u `O`o remained moderate to high, as is the norm. There were some larger earthquakes at depths of a few kilometers.

Also, there were small inflation and deflation events during this period. Tiltmeters on the NW side of Kilauea's caldera rim (Uwekahuna) and on the NW flank of the active vent along the East rift zone (Pu`u `O`o cone) showed several microradians of radial tilt during 5-11 November, but the patterns were complex and plagued by instrument problems. During 12-17 November, small amounts of inflation and deflation occurred, including inflation on 17 November that started when the surface waves from a M 7.5 earthquake at Rat Island in the Aleutians reached Kilauea. The inflation was small, ~0.5 rad at Pu`u `O`o tilt station and 0.3 rad at Uwekahuna station. Small amounts of inflation and deflation were recorded through the week of 19-25 November with sharp deflation beginning at both Uwekahuna and Pu`u O`o early on the morning of 25 November.

Moderate, shallow seismicity was recorded beneath the summit, and moderate to high seismicity occurred beneath Pu`u O`o. The seismic record at Kilauea's summit during 15-16 December was nearly devoid of earthquakes, though the background is steady weak tremor. Tremor at Pu`u `O`o was continuously at a moderate level. Otherwise, seismicity at Kilauea was at a low level during this period.

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: Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), U.S. Geological Survey, PO Box 51, Hawaii National Park, HI 96718, USA (URL: https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/).