Kilauea Erupts: Lava Returns to Big Island of Hawaii

At approximately 4:34 pm local time (9:34 pm ET), the Kilauea Volcano began to erupt on the Big Island of Hawaii, prompting USGS and the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) to raise the volcano alert level from WATCH to WARNING and the aviation color code from ORANGE to RED.

Kilauea had gone quiet in December as the nearby Mauna Loa eruption was wrapping up too. USGS declared on December 9 that Kilauea had stopped erupting. However, since that time, earthquake quantity and intensity has been increasing.

Kilauea, the youngest and most active volcano on the Island of Hawaii, erupted almost continuously from 1983 to 2018 at Pu‘u‘ō‘ō and other vents along the volcano’s East Rift Zone. From 2008 to 2018, there was a lava lake within Halema‘uma‘u crater at the volcano’s summit. In 2018, Kilauea experienced the largest lower East Rift Zone eruption and summit collapse in at least 200 years. An eruption from December 2020 to May 2021 fed a lava lake in Halema‘uma‘u crater at the summit. From September 29, 2021 through to December of last year, there was an ongoing eruption at the very active volcano, all contained within Halema‘uma‘u crater. About 90 percent of the volcano is covered with lava flows less than 1,100 years in age.

HVO is responsible for issuing Aviation Codes and Volcanic Activity Alert Levels for Hawaii’s volcanoes. Aviation Codes are green, yellow, orange, or red. When ground-based instrumentation is insufficient to establish that a volcano is at a typical background level of activity, it is simply “unassigned.” While green means typical activity associated with a non-eruptive state, yellow means a volcano is exhibiting signs of elevated unrest above known background levels. When a volcano exhibits heightened or escalating unrest with the increased potential of eruption, it jumps to orange. Finally, when an eruption is imminent with significant emission of volcanic ash expected in the atmosphere or an eruption is underway with significant emission of volcanic ash into the atmosphere, the code becomes red. Volcanic Activity Alert levels are normal, advisory, watch, or warning. As with aviation codes, if data is insufficient, it is simply labeled as “unassigned.” When the volcano is at typical background activity in a non-eruptive state, it is considered normal. If the volcano exhibits signs of elevated unrest above background level, an advisory  is issued. If a volcano exhibits heightened or escalating unrest, a watch is issued while a warning is issued when a hazardous eruption is imminent.

“The opening phases of eruptions are dynamic. Webcam imagery shows fissures at the base of Halemaʻumaʻu crater generating lava flows on the surface of the crater floor. The activity is confined to Halemaʻumaʻu and the hazards will be reassessed as the eruption progresses,” said HVO in an update announcement issued a short time ago.  HVO will continue to monitor this activity closely and report any significant changes in future notices.

“HVO is in constant communication with Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park as this situation evolves. The activity is confined entirely within the park,” HVO said.  The park remains open to visitors who want to view the lava; however, should conditions change, the park may restrict access to some areas to keep visitors safe from volcanic hazards.

With lava activity confined to the summit caldera, no population areas, communities nor resort areas on Hawaii are under any  threat of any lava inundation at this time.

**By Weatherboy