VOLCANO WATCH: January Marks ‘Volcano Awareness Month’

December 18, 2014, 5:05 PM HST
* Updated December 18, 5:09 PM
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HVO ushers in the New Year with “Volcano Awareness Month”

January is “Volcano Awareness Month.” That might seem odd, given that Island of Hawai‘i residents—especially those in the District of Puna—have been acutely aware of Kīlauea Volcano for at least the past four months, during which an active lava flow crossed a road, burned a farm shed and unoccupied house, inundated a cemetery, damaged orchards, and buried sections of private property. Today, the lava flow continues to threaten the community of Pāhoa.

Indeed, since Hawai‘i is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes—Kīlauea and Mauna Loa—the need for volcano awareness should not be limited to a single month.

But in 2010, Hawai‘i County Mayor Billy Kenoi proclaimed January as “Volcano Awareness Month” as a way to promote the importance of understanding the volcanoes on which we live. The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) selected January as the “official” month, largely because Jan. 3 is the day that Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone (Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō) eruption began in 1983.

In addition to the 32nd anniversary of the ongoing East Rift Zone eruption, January 2015 marks the 55th anniversary of another notable Kīlauea lava flow that impacted the lower Puna District. The eruption began on January 13, 1960, and by the time it ended 36 days later, relentless lava flows had devastated Kapoho village and part of Koae village despite valiant efforts to divert the flows with bulldozed barriers. An account of this eruption is available here.


The new year also marks the 60th and 65th anniversaries of two other significant eruptions in Hawai‘i: the February 1955 Kīlauea East Rift Zone eruption, which was the first Kīlauea eruption to impact an inhabited area (lower Puna) in more than 100 years, and the June 1950 Mauna Loa Southwest Rift Zone eruption, which sent three lava flows across the highway south of Ho‘okena. The first of these Mauna Loa flows traveled from the vent to the ocean, a 24-km (15-mi) journey, in less than three hours, destroying the village of Pāhoehoe along the way.


These Kīlauea and Mauna Loa eruptions are just a few reminders of why it’s important to better understand how Hawaiian volcanoes work. Accordingly, HVO, in cooperation with Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo (UHH), and Hawai‘i County Civil Defense, is offering a series of volcano awareness presentations during the month of January.

Weekly “After Dark in the Park” programs in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park will feature talks by HVO and UHH volcanologists on Jan. 6, 13, 20, and 27. Topics include an update on Kīlauea Volcano’s ongoing eruptions, explosive versus effusive Kīlauea eruptions, the relationship between earthquakes and Mauna Loa eruptions, and how pāhoehoe lava flows work.  Additional updates on Hawai‘i’s active volcanoes will be presented at UHH on Jan. 7, in Ocean View on Jan. 14, and in Kailua-Kona on Jan. 28.

Details about these Volcano Awareness Month presentations, including dates, times, locations, and synopses, are posted on HVO’s website. You can also email [email protected] or call (808) 967-8844 for more information. The talks are free and open to the public (National Park entrance fees may apply for the “After Dark in the Park” programs).


Awareness of Hawaiian volcanoes is possible throughout the year by visiting HVO’s website.  Our webpages provide daily eruption updates for Kīlauea, including maps and photos of the lava flow’s advance toward Pāhoa, as well as status reports for Mauna Loa and other active volcanoes in Hawai‘i. Daily Kīlauea lava flow updates are also posted on the Hawai‘i County Civil Defense website.

If you’re seeking a more technical awareness, “Characteristics of Hawaiian Volcanoes,” written by current and former HVO staff and collaborators to commemorate HVO’s 100th anniversary in 2012, is now available online. This 10-chapter volume reviews HVO’s research history and presents our current understanding of Hawaiian volcanism, along with new data on eruption dynamics, hazards, and more.

We encourage you to check out the 2015 Volcano Awareness Month schedule—and hope that you will join us in January. It’s a great time to learn more about Hawaiian volcanoes and to meet some of the HVO scientists who study and monitor them.

Kīlauea activity update

The lava flow that began erupting from Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō on June 27 remains active and is advancing across State land east of the Wao Kele O Puna Forest Reserve. HVO’s mapping on Thursday, Dec. 18 showed the tip of the flow to be about 1.0 km (0.6 mi) upslope from the Pāhoa Marketplace. Scattered breakouts were active about 2 km (1.2 mi) upslope from the leading edge of the flow, as well as near the abandoned geothermal well site and just downslope of Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō. There was no significant change in activity at Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō.

The level of the summit lava lake within Halema‘uma‘u Crater was relatively stable during the week, fluctuating between about 40 and 45 m (130 and 150 ft) below the rim of the Overlook crater through Thursday, Dec 18.

Two earthquakes were reported felt on the Island of Hawai‘i during the past week. On Friday, Dec. 12, 2014, at 8:42 p.m., a magnitude-4.2 earthquake occurred 56.9 km (35.3 mi) northwest of Kailua at a depth of 11.6 km (7.2 mi). On Monday, Dec. 15, at 2:57 p.m., a magnitude-2.9 earthquake occurred 11.9 km (7.4 mi) north of Waimea at a depth of 24.4 km (15.1 mi).

Weekly “Volcano Watch” articles are written by scientists at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Visit the HVO website for past Volcano Watch articles and current Kīlauea, Mauna Loa, and Hualālai activity updates, lava flow maps, recent volcano photos, recent earthquakes, and more; call (808) 967-8862 for a Kīlauea summary; email questions to [email protected].


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