Volcano Watch: Kilauea Volcano’s Summit Eruption Is Now A Decade Old

A little more than 10 years ago, conditions around Kilauea Volcano’s summit were much different than today. The caldera floor was open to the public, and the air above it was normally clear. Halema‘uma‘u was an impressive sight, but peacefully in repose.

That quiet phase at Kilauea’s summit ended abruptly in 2008, ushering in a new era of lava lake activity that continues today.

Let’s review the past decade of this summit eruption.

After several months of increased seismic tremor and gas emissions, there was a small explosion in Halema‘uma‘u on March 19, 2008. The explosion marked the opening of a new crater, informally called the “Overlook crater.” During the remainder of 2008, several more explosions deposited spatter around Halema‘uma‘u, and the Overlook crater enlarged through collapses of its rim.

During 2009, small lava lakes were sometimes active deep within the Overlook crater. But since early 2010, the lava lake has been continuously present, steadily growing and rising higher.

The rise was interrupted March 5, 2011, when the lava lake briefly drained away because of the Kamoamoa eruption on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone.

The lava lake stabilized in 2012, rose to a higher level in 2013 and remained stable in 2014 and early 2015. In April 2015, the lava lake rose abruptly and briefly overflowed, spilling lava onto the floor of Halema‘uma‘u. High lake levels in 2016 allowed lava to be frequently observed from public viewing areas in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but a gradual drop in 2017 has made direct viewing of the lake less common during the past year.

The lava lake activity in 2018 is similar to that during the previous several years — relatively steady — and there are no signs that the summit eruption is slowing down.

Halema‘uma‘u now hosts one of the two largest lava lakes on Earth. It is likely the largest, but this cannot be said with complete certainty, as regular measurements are not available from the closest contender — Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Most persistent lava lakes are difficult to access, either because of geographic location (for example, Erebus in Antarctica) or political instability (for example, Nyiragongo). The size and accessibility of the Halema‘uma‘u lava lake, as well as the existing network of monitoring instruments, make it one of the premier locations to study lava lake behavior.

USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists, along with collaborators from other institutions, are engaged in research to understand how the lava lake works and what it can tell us about the behavior and hazards of Kilauea.

For instance, we learned that the lake rises and falls in concert with changes in summit ground tilt. This tells us that the lake responds to the pressure of the magma chamber, so the lake level can be used like a pressure gauge.

The lake also fluctuates in concert with the lava pond at Pu‘u ‘O‘o on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone, illustrating the hydraulic connection between the two eruption sites. Lava chemistry at the two sites also is similar, adding further evidence of a close connection.

Another important finding deals with the nature of small explosions that occur at the lava lake from time to time.

HVO webcams revealed that the explosions are triggered by rockfalls from the Overlook crater rim impacting the lake surface. This observation is further evidence that the lava lake is very gassy, akin to lava foam. Rocks falling into this gas-rich, frothy lava triggers violent releases of gas that send spatter flying.

While the summit eruption has benefited science, it comes with many challenges, including persistent volcanic air pollution (vog) resulting from elevated sulfur dioxide gas emissions from the lava lake. Vog impacts the entire state at times, but the Ka‘u and Kona districts on the Island of Hawaii have been particularly hard hit.

Kilauea has a history of long-lasting summit eruptions, but it remains to be seen if the current eruption will go on for another decade. The past few years of stable activity suggest the summit lava lake is likely to continue into the near future.

However long it lasts, HVO will continue to study this awe-inspiring, unique feature to discover what more it can reveal about the volcano.

Volcano activity updates

This past week, Kilauea Volcano’s summit lava lake level fluctuated with summit inflation and deflation, ranging about 30.5-40.5 m (100-133 ft) below the vent rim. On the East Rift Zone, the 61g lava flow remained active downslope of Pu‘u ‘O‘o, with scattered breakouts on the upper part of the flow field and on Pulama pali, but no ocean entry. The 61g flows do not pose an immediate threat to nearby communities.

Mauna Loa is not erupting. Rates of deformation and seismicity have not changed significantly in the past week, persisting at above-long-term background levels. Sixteen microearthquakes (magnitudes less than 2) were located beneath the summit caldera, upper Southwest Rift Zone and western flank of the volcano at depths of 0-5 km (0-3 mi). GPS and InSAR measurements continue to show slow deformation related to inflation of a magma reservoir beneath the summit and upper Southwest Rift Zone. No significant changes in volcanic gas emissions were measured.

No earthquakes were reported felt in the Hawaiian Islands this past week.

Volcanic Activity Threatens Families Again On Ambae Island In Vanuatu

Volcanic activity on Vanuatu’s Ambae Island has picked up again over the last few days, with fresh ash fall reported across the island’s west and south.

Communities in the western and southern parts of Ambae are suffering badly from thick periodic ash fall which threaten their health, animals and vegetation.

The entire island was evacuated late last year when the volcano at the island’s centre erupted, blanketing the island in ash, suffocating crops and contaminating water sources.

The only population returned to their homes when the eruption settled down after a month, but on Sunday night the volcano’s alert level was raised from level 2 to 3, a “state of minor eruption.”

The Geohazards Department’s Melinda Aru said the volcano was showing increased activity and an exclusion zone had been extended to three km around the crater lake.

“We’ve got a few reports coming from Ambae concerning ash fall on the west, southwest and northwest as of last week until Sunday. We still have reports from Ambae concerning ash fall.”

Melinda Aru said the chance of the eruption increasing to the level seen in October last year was highly unlikely.

Reports on the Vanuatu Daily Post website on Monday said that people may need to shelter livestock and water tanks as the Lombenben volcano continues to emit ash.

The Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-hazards Department still grades the Ambae volcano at major unrest stage.

Destruction caused by the ash fall in affected areas is described as literally similar to a cyclone wiping out trees and crops.

Its weight caused plants and crops in the gardens like banana, cassava and cabbages to collapse.

Destruction done by volcanic ash on people, plants and crops depend largely on its thickness. Though it may causes health problems to livestock and human such as skin irritation and eye problem, volcanic ash can make the soil fertile.

Responsible authorities have warned that everyone, particularly children should be protected from the volcano’s ash and poisonous gases that poses a health risk.

The Vanuatu Red Cross Society (RCS) said it was working to establish a sub-branch in west Ambae to support communities during disasters.

Underwater Volcano Behavior Captured By Timely Scientific Expedition

Researchers got a rare opportunity to study an underwater volcano in the Caribbean when it erupted while they were surveying the area.

The research, published today in the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, provides new insight into the little-studied world of underwater volcanoes. It investigated a volcano named Kick-’em-Jenny (KeJ), which is thought to be named after the turbulent waters nearby.

The team from Imperial College London, Southampton and Liverpool universities, in collaboration with The University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre (SRC), were collecting ocean-bottom seismometers aboard the NERC research ship R.R.S. James Cook as part of a larger experiment when they were alerted to the volcano erupting.

Direct observation of submarine eruptions are very rare, but having the ship nearby allowed them to get to the volcano in time to record the immediate aftermath of the eruption.

Using ship-based imaging technology, the team was able to survey the volcano, observing gas coming from the central cone. The data was then combined with previous surveys going back more than 30 years to reveal the long-term pattern of activity.

Kick-’em-Jenny is one of the Caribbean’s most active volcanoes. It sits eight kilometres off the northern coast of the island of Grenada, and was first discovered in 1939 when a 300-metre column of ash and dust was spotted rising from the ocean.

However, volcanic activity at KeJ is usually detected by accompanying seismic activity picked up on land-based seismometers. These recordings show that the volcano is active on a decadal timescale.

Lead author PhD student Robert Allen, from the Department of Earth Science & Engineering at Imperial, said: “There are surveys of the Kick-’em-Jenny area going back 30 years, but our survey in April 2017 is unique in that it immediately followed an eruption. This gave us unprecedented data on what this volcanic activity actually looks like, rather than relying on interpreting seismic signals.”

The team found that the volcano has frequent cycles of lava ‘dome’ growth followed by collapse through landslides. Similar cycles have been recently witnessed on the nearby volcanic island of Montserrat.

Co-author Dr Jenny Collier, from the Department of Earth Science & Engineering at Imperial, said: “Kick-’em-Jenny is a very active volcano but because it is submarine is less well studied than other volcanoes in the Caribbean. Our research shows that whilst it has quite regular cycles, it is on a relatively small scale, which will help inform future monitoring strategies.”

SRC Director Professor Richard Robertson said: “This study has confirmed very useful recent insights on the activity and evolution of Kick-’em-Jenny volcano. For us, the agency with responsibility for monitoring this volcano, the results of this collaborative research project enable us to better quantify our existing model of this volcano and help in developing strategies for managing future eruptions.”

Any volcano on land which was as lively as KeJ would be constantly monitored by satellites and an array of local instruments looking for the slightest change in behaviour that could precede a major volcanic eruption.

Under the ocean this job is much more difficult, as the electromagnetic energy emitted by satellites cannot penetrate the sea surface and instruments are much more difficult to set up on the volcano itself. Scientists therefore know comparatively little about the growth and long-term behaviour of a fully submerged volcanic cone like KeJ.

The most famous submarine volcanoes are those that lead to the formation of new islands, such as the eruption of Surtsey in Iceland in the 1960s. However, rather than a growing cone, the surveys show significant mass loss from KeJ due to frequent landslides in recent decades.

Comparison with recent studies elsewhere has shown that similar, frequent, small volume landslides may be a fundamental mechanism in the long-term evolution of active submarine volcanoes.

Japanese Volcano Spews Ash, Lava In Strongest Eruption In Years

TOKYO -A volcano in southern Japan that appeared in a James Bond film had its biggest eruption in years Tuesday, shooting smoke and ash thousands of feet into the sky and grounding dozens of flights at a nearby airport, officials said. The Meteorological Agency said the Shinmoedake volcano on Japan’s southernmost main island of Kyushu erupted violently several times, and some lava was rising inside a crater.

“The mountain has been erupting for a while, but this is the strongest day yet,” an official at the Japanese Meteorological Agency told Reuters. “This will go on for a while.”

Public broadcaster NHK showed gray volcanic smoke billowing into the sky and orange lava rising to the mouth of the crater. The Meteorological Agency said ash and smoke shot up about 7,500 feet into the sky in the volcano’s biggest explosion since 2011.

In Kirishima city at the foot of the volcano, pedestrians wore surgical masks or covered their noses with hand towels, while others used umbrellas to protect from falling ash. Cars had layers of ash on their roofs.

There were no reports of injuries or damage from the eruptions. The agency said the volcanic activity is expected to continue and cautioned residents against the possibility of flying rocks and pyroclastic flows — superheated gas and volcanic debris that race down the slopes at high speeds, incinerating or vaporizing everything in their path.

The volcano, seen in the 1967 James Bond film “You Only Live Twice,” has had smaller eruptions since last week.

Entry to the 4,660-foot-high volcano was restricted. About 80 flights in and out of nearby Kagoshima airport were canceled.

Japan, which sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” has 110 active volcanoes and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

An eruption of Mount Ontake in 2014 killed about 60 people. In January, a surprise eruption of another volcano in central Japan killed a soldier during ski training and injured 11 others. Several other Japanese volcanoes have had smaller eruptions.

Modern Volcanism Tied To Events Occurring Soon After Earth’s Birth

Plumes of hot magma from the volcanic hotspot that formed Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean rise from an unusually primitive source deep beneath Earth’s surface, according to new work in Nature from Carnegie’s Bradley Peters, Richard Carlson, and Mary Horan along with James Day of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Réunion marks the present-day location of the hotspot that 66 million years ago erupted the Deccan Traps flood basalts, which cover most of India and may have contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Flood basalts and other hotspot lavas are thought to originate from different portions of Earth’s deep interior than most volcanoes at Earth’s surface and studying this material may help scientists understand our home planet’s evolution.

The heat from Earth’s formation process caused extensive melting of the planet, leading Earth to separate into two layers when the denser iron metal sank inward toward the center, creating the core and leaving the silicate-rich mantle floating above.

Over the subsequent 4.5 billion years of Earth’s evolution, deep portions of the mantle would rise upwards, melt, and then separate once again by density, creating Earth’s crust and changing the chemical composition of Earth’s interior in the process. As crust sinks back into Earth’s interior — a phenomenon that’s occurring today along the boundary of the Pacific Ocean — the slow motion of Earth’s mantle works to stir these materials, along with their distinct chemistry, back into the deep Earth.

But not all of the mantle is as well-blended as this process would indicate. Some older patches still exist — like powdery pockets in a poorly mixed bowl of cake batter. Analysis of the chemical compositions of Réunion Island volcanic rocks indicate that their source material is different from other, better-mixed parts of the modern mantle.

Using new isotope data, the research team revealed that Réunion lavas originate from regions of the mantle that were isolated from the broader, well-blended mantle. These isolated pockets were formed within the first ten percent of Earth’s history.

Isotopes are elements that have the same number of protons, but a different number of neutrons. Sometimes, the number of neutrons present in the nucleus make an isotope unstable; to gain stability, the isotope will release energetic particles in the process of radioactive decay. This process alters its number of protons and neutrons and transforms it into a different element. This new study harnesses this process to provide a fingerprint for the age and history of distinct mantle pockets.

Samarium-146 is one such unstable, or radioactive, isotope with a half-life of only 103 million years. It decays to the isotope neodymium-142. Although samarium-146 was present when Earth formed, it became extinct very early in Earth’s infancy, meaning neodymium-142 provides a good record of Earth’s earliest history, but no record of Earth from the period after all the samarium-146 transformed into neodymium-142. Differences in the abundances of neodymium-142 in comparison to other isotopes of neodymium could only have been generated by changes in the chemical composition of the mantle that occurred in the first 500 million years of Earth’s 4.5 billion-year history.

The ratio of neodymium-142 to neodymium-144 in Réunion volcanic rocks, together with the results of lab-based mimicry and modeling studies, indicate that despite billions of years of mantle mixing, Réunion plume magma likely originates from a preserved pocket of the mantle that experienced a compositional change caused by large-scale melting of Earth’s earliest mantle.

The team’s findings could also help explain the origin of dense regions right at the boundary of the core and mantle called large low shear velocity provinces (LLSVPs) and ultralow velocity zones (ULVZs), reflecting the unusually slow speed of seismic waves as they travel through these regions of the deep mantle. Such regions may be relics of early melting events.

“The mantle differentiation event preserved in these hotspot plumes can both teach us about early Earth geochemical processes and explain the mysterious seismic signatures created by these dense deep-mantle zones,” said lead author Peters.

Hawaii Dumped 1.5 Billion Gallons Of Lava Into Pacific As Volcano Wall Collapses

A rare volcano wall collapse was captured recently on Kīlauea volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The collapse occurred on February 10th, at 8:21 a.m. local time when a massive chunk of the volcano collapsed.

The sudden collapse was on Kīlauea volcano’s active East Rift Zone, specifically on the northeast rim of the west pit in Pu’u O’o. This collapse was coincident with subsidence as the adjacent ground fell. Kīlauea volcano is actively monitored by the USGS on the island, looking for evidence of new eruptions and danger to local communities.

While there have been several new lava channels and points where lava has breached the surface of the island, there are no active threats to the local communities. This is, in part, due to the protected Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which protects some of the most active volcanic areas of the island from development and tourists.

The Kīlauea East Rift Zone, known locally as Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō, has been erupting practically continuously for the past 34 years. However, the island of Hawaii has seen an uptick in activity in recent months, with hundreds of millions of gallons of lava flowing into the Pacific Ocean. While the volcano is constantly delivered a new supply of lava from the underlying hot spot, it’s not typical for the lava to flow unabatedly into the ocean for such a long period of time.

The source of this constant lava flow is a massive lava tube running from the volcano to the Pacific Ocean, which lasted over a month, an incredibly long period of time for a lava tube. It eventually collapsed, exposing the cavity of the lava tube as lava flow slowed down.

The USGS estimates that 1-2 cubic meters of lava flowed into the ocean per second, totaling up to 1.576 billion gallons of lava during the lava tube’s month-long lifespan.

Mayon Ejects 1,000-M Ash Plume

MANILA – Mount Mayon spewed a 1,000-meter ash plume on Friday, as authorities looked for ways to decongest evacuation centers that house tens of thousands.

The volcano has been emitting carbon dioxide and sulfur in “degassing” episodes that may lessen the chances of further eruption, vulcanologists said.

The Office of Civil Defense in Bicol has ordered the decampment of evacuees whose homes are outside the 8-kilometer danger zone to decongest evacuation centers.

The most active volcano in the country has been belching ash and lava since mid-January sending thousands of people to evacuation centers.

The government earlier said it was bracing for a possible 3-month-long emergency in areas around the Mayon Volcano, which displaced more than 81,000.