East Hawaii News

Presentations Mark Halema`uma`u Eruption Anniversary

March 12, 2013, 12:31 PM HST
* Updated March 12, 4:06 PM
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Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park will be offering additional “Life on the Edge” presentations Tuesday, March 19, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the current eruption within Kilauea’s summit crater, Halema`uma`u.

The 20-minute talks on the geological and mythological history of the summit crater will be presented at the Jaggar Museum observation deck on the hour from 10 a.m. to noon and again at 2 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.

The eruption began at 2:58 a.m. on March 19, 2008 when an explosion created a hole 115-feet wide on the south wall of Halema`uma`u. A nighttime glow from the pit suggested the presence of molten lava below but it wasn’t until six months later that scientists for the US Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory observed a lake of roiling lava within the vent.

Park Ranger Dean Gallagher engages visitors with a “Life on the Edge” talk, held daily at the Jaggar Museum Overlook in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. NPS Photo

Park Ranger Dean Gallagher engages visitors with a “Life on the Edge” talk, held daily at the Jaggar Museum Overlook in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. NPS Photo

Before that vent opened the eruption of Kilauea had for years been located on the volcano’s east rift zone, miles from its summit.

Over the past five years, rock collapses within the vent have enlarged its opening to an area now measuring 520 feet by 700 feet.


According to HVO Scientist-in-Charge Jim Kauahikaua, the vent is expected to continue to grow through further collapses of the vent’s rim.


Kauahikaua described the lava inside as gas-rich “foam” that rises and falls according to changes in Kilauea’s underground magma pressure. The lava within the vent reached its highest level to date on Oct. 26, 2012 when it came to within 72 feet of the rim.

Although the actual lava lake is not visible from safe viewing areas, its glow – the diffusion of incandescent lava light within the gas plume rising from the vent – can be spectacular and easily observed from park overlooks on clear nights.

When the lava lake level is especially high, park visitors can sometimes hear sharp sounds as rocks in the vent wall expand and crack due to the increased heat.


The opening of the vent increased the already-high sulfur dioxide gas emission rates at the summit , which has resulted in closures of the downwind sections of Crater Rim Drive.

The emissions have also plagued downwind areas like Pahala, which have experienced damage to flower farms and other agricultural activitis in Ka`u.

Scientists say although the SO2 emissions have declined since 2008, they are still averaging roughly 900 to 1,300 tons of the gas each day.

“The amazing beauty of this eruption, and the ease of viewing opportunities within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, provides both visitors and residents with unforgettable experiences,” park Superintendent Cindy Orlando said in a statement. “Where else in the world can you park your car and walk just a few feet to behold the spectacle of one of the world’s most active volcanoes?”

Jaggar Museum and the overlook are wheelchair- and stroller-accessible. Other vantage points for viewing Halema‘uma‘u within the park include Kīlauea Overlook, Kīlauea Iki Overlook, and Keanakako‘i Overlook.

The summit eruption, Kīlauea’s second longest since the early 1900s, can also be experienced through photos, videos, and webcam images posted on HVO’s website. A USGS Fact Sheet about this ongoing eruption is currently being prepared, and will be available online in the coming months.

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