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Report on Kilauea (United States) — December 1989

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 14, no. 12 (December 1989)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Kilauea (United States) Two ocean entries remain active; littoral explosions

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1989. Report on Kilauea (United States) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 14:12. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198912-332010.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


United States

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Throughout December, lava from Kupaianaha pond continued to flow into the ocean . . . (figure 64). Most of the lava (75-95%) entered the water at the Poupou entry, the rest at the October entry on the Kailiili delta, now designated the W Kailiili entry (figure 65). The output at W Kailiili had diminished to a trickle by the end of December.

The Poupou lava tube branched near the coastline and, during most of the month, terminated in two streams of lava, 25-50 m apart at the waterline. Intermittent littoral explosions added spatter and limu to the large 2-3-m littoral cone atop the sea cliff. Two smaller cones formed in early December ~20 m to the E. They were nearly buried at mid-month by a surface flow that emerged from the tube near the ocean and cascaded over the sea cliff to form a 30 x 10 m bench. This flow stagnated within a few days. As the surface flow emerged, an inflated area ~3 m high by 15-20 m in diameter formed behind the large cone.

Breakouts from the lava tube system at 550-480 m elevation (1,850-1,600 ft) produced small pahoehoe flows that encroached on the kipukas along the W flow margin. At the 180 m (600 ft) level, breakouts fed small flows that terminated 300-400 m upslope of the Royal Gardens kipuka through the 18th. Surface breakouts in Royal Gardens were first reported on 11 December. On 6 December, a thin flow encroached on the S half of the Wahaula Heiau (temple) grounds. One lobe of the flow stagnated ~10 m N of the ruins, but most lava flowed farther E and cascaded over the sea cliff onto the new black sand beach below. Activity of the Wahaula flow ceased after 8 December.

The level of Kupaianaha lava pond, which had dropped to ~30 m below the rim in November, remained low and stable in December. Glowing vents at the bottom of Pu`u `O`o were reported on the 3rd and 11th, but no active lava was present.

Low-level tremor continued . . . near Pu`u `O`o and Kupaianaha. Above the background of continuous tremor, high-frequency microshocks associated with minor crustal fracturing around Kupaianaha were detected by the Kalalua seismometer, ~1 km away. The number of shallow (<5 km) microearthquakes was about average in the summit region and the East rift zone. Intermediate-depth (5-15 km) long-period events continued, reaching several hundred/day. A widely felt earthquake (preliminary M 5.1) struck the S flank of Kilauea at 2313 on 27 December at 9 km depth.

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: C. Heliker and R. Koyanagi, HVO.