Waikōloa man captures fountaining lava hours after Kīlauea eruption began
September 12, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
Immediately after learning Kīlauea was erupting on Sunday afternoon, Waikōloa resident Andrew Cooper grabbed his camera and a jacket, and drove two hours to spend the evening watching Mother Nature’s show in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.
He wanted to see the eruption in the early hours, when “it’s always a little more dramatic.” The video below shows Cooper’s footage of the lava fountains within the Kīlauea caldera.
This is the fifth time in four years that Kīlauea volcano began a new eruption in its summit crater, with multiple lava fountains feeding a lake of molten rock.
Hawaiian Volcano Obersvatory’s Deputy Scientist-in-Charge David Phillips said the eruption started with at least six lava fountains extending nearly a mile long at heights of 130 to 150 feet.
A live-stream video of the eruption, which began at 3:15 p.m. on Sunday, is available at https://www.youtube.com/usgs/live. The alert level has since dropped from warning to watch. And, with no activity in the East Rift Zone or the Southwest Rift Zone, the eruption is not posing an immediate threat to communities or structures.
An engineer by profession, Cooper describes himself as an amateur photographer and armchair volcanologist. He knew the volcano was erupting 20 minutes after it began.
“I’m an eruption junkie,” Cooper said. “I pay attention to the volcano even when it’s not erupting.”
Cooper said Sunday’s show was spectacular.
“It’s clearly the best eruption I’ve seen in the decades I’ve been on the island,” he said, with the exception of the destructive lava flow that inundated several parts of Puna in 2018.
While the howling wind was annoying, Cooper said there was no rain at the crater and the stars were visible in the night sky.
“Not a bad evening on the rim,” he said.
Cooper set up his telephoto lens near the Kīlauea overlook with several other onlookers. He said the entire crater floor was involved in lava, with six big lava fountains and dozens of spattering fountains.
“It was like we were all visitors to hell because the area was lit red,” he said.
While activity died down overnight, on Monday, there were still active vents fountaining at heights of 30 to 50 feet.
Phillips said earthquakes and accelerated inflation of the ground increased about an hour before the eruption. While eruption events since December 2020 have been primarily located within the lava lake of Halema‘uma‘u crater, Phillips said vents in this eruption opened up outside of the crater in an area known as the downdropped block.
The vents extend .8 miles from the eastern part of Halema‘uma‘u crater floor into the east wall of the downdropped block.
While activity has declined, Phillips said there’s always a possibility that more vents will open up, but it’s not expected. The eruption could last days, weeks or months.
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park spokesperson Jessica Ferracane wasn’t sure how many people came to watch the eruption on Sunday but said the Kīlauea parking lot was full at 4 a.m.
Ferracane said amazing energy is felt by residents, staff and visitors at the park right now, and there is “a profound respect by many for the natural processes of this amazing landscape.”
Officials at the national park remind visitors to stay on marked trails and designated overlook areas if they are coming to see the eruption.
“Observe the eruption quietly and respect Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners who honor the sacred legacy of this land and give them space to practice their customs,” officials stated.
Cooper suggested getting down to the park in the next few days while the lava is still active. Optimal viewing of the lava lake and fountains is available at Uēkahuna, Kīlauea Overlook and areas along Crater Rim Trail. Conditions can change at any time.
The Keanakākoʻi viewing area is closed due to high concentrations of sulfur dioxide and volcanic particulates and will remain closed until it is safe to reopen. Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory measured preliminary sulfur dioxide emission rates up to 100,000 tonnes.
Do not enter closed areas. Avoid cliff edges and earth cracks, they are unstable.
Hazardous volcanic gases present a danger to everyone, especially people with heart or respiratory problems, infants, young children and pregnant women.
Visitors should expect long waits for parking spaces at popular vantage points like Kīlauea Overlook.
Check the park website for eruption viewing information, hazard and closure updates, https://www.nps.gov/hawaiivolcanoes.