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Kilauea Eruption Marks 30th Anniversary

Posted January 3, 2013, 04:54 PM HST Updated January 4, 2013, 12:29 PM HST
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Kilauea's Pu`u `O`o vent producing a lava fountain and flow. Photo courtesy of HVO.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Kilauea’s ongoing eruption.

As detailed by the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in today’s Volcano Watch column, the on-again, off-again eruption began on Jan. 3, 1983 with the opening of a fissure in the volcano’s east rift zone.

Scientists at HVO say unlike rift eruptions of the previous two decades, this one began producing towering lava fountains, some exceeding 1,500 feet in height.

The fountains occurred about every three weeks and lasted about a day. They also provided the ash that built the Pu`u `O`o cone, which eventually reached a height of 835 feet.

The flows generated during those eruptions were of fast moving `a`a lava, some of which overran houses in the remote Royal Gardens subdivision on Kilauea’s flank, the first of the 214 structures that would eventually be destroyed.

In 1986, the eruption shifted about two miles to the east where it built up the broad Kupaianaha lava shield that produced more fluid pahoehoe flows.

Though they moved more slowly, the pahoehoe flows created lava tubes as they advanced. The outer surface of the tubes cooled, allowing the lava inside to creep further and further down the volcano’s slopes.

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In 1990 the molten rock reached the coastal communities of Kalapana.

The eruption shifted back to Pu`u `O`o in 1992 and again began building lava tube networks that channeled lava that widened the flow field.

Disruptions in the magma conduit resulted in eruptions in several other areas in 1997 and 2007, the latter being “Fissure D” located between Pu`u `O`o and Kupaianaha, where the eruption continued for nearly four years.

The September 2011 vent that opened on the east flank of Pu`u `O`o remains active today.

Over the past three decades, the eruption has covered 48 square miles with lava.

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