May 31: 6PM Eruption Update – Conference Call

Normally I tuck the USGS media conference call into my digest for the day, but my notes are so long I decided to put this in its own post.

Summary: Eruption is continuing with no signs of stopping. Wendy Stovall gives all kinds of geeky tidbits about temperatures, heights, where the magma is coming from, plumbing system of Kilauea. She emphasizes that Kilauea receives a “continuous supply of magma from the deep mantle” thanks to its mantle plume. Scientists are starting to discuss calling this a new eruption, but their focus right now is on collecting data and getting info to Civil Defense.

Full notes (sorry they’re a little rough, but you’ve got the gist) below cut:

Wendy Stovall (USGS): Same activity as yesterday, fissure 8 fountaining 200-250 ft, highest recorded fountain of this eruption. Side fountains 60 ft, spatter cone downwind 100 ft. Fissure 8 still sending wide flow NE down highway 132 into area of Noni Farms Rd, slowed to 50 yards/hr.

6AM  breakout of main channel sent flow north up Makamae St. Pele’s hair, other volcanic glass still wafting from fissure 8. Fissure 18 flow half mile from Highway 137 but has slowed. Low level spattering from fissure 21 using earlier channel towards ocean.
Summit: same deflation rate, slightly lower earthquake frequency today, minor ash explosions. Trying to set up a new ash notification service for downwind communities.

Jessica Ferracane (HVNP): Bulldozers have cleared about half the lava from Chain of Craters Rd for evacuation rd (which will be one-way, out). Quashing rumor that some park service employees have been laid off. There are NO layoffs.  Temporary flight restriction above summit (30,000 feet up, radius 5 nautical miles) extended to August 31.
Derek Wroe (NWS/NOAA) – strong NE tradewinds back, sending Pele’s hair/etc to southwest again. Friday same.
Q&A: (question about how much magma’s left in the summit)
Wendy: preliminary calculations show only about ~ 2% of magma could have left summit; that’s enough for this much subsidence! Magma definitely still coming into summit from below, continuous supply from core/mantle boundary (!!). Composition “exactly akin to Pu’u O’o”, no longer mixed with older lava.
(question about temperature.) Wendy: Fountain temperature —what we’re able to measure— about 900 [1652F] degrees C. Using thermal/infrared camera to measure. Problem: clasts falling down around outside of fountain are cooling, so 900 is “mixed” reading of fountain interior and outer clasts.
(question: any signs of slowdown?) Wendy: Right now, LERZ not widening more, but supply of magma seems steady, no sign of slowdown yet. Past pattern they have to go on is 1 month, 3 months for previous Kapoho & Puna eruptions.
(question: is magma coming down from summit causing increased pressure, higher fountains?) Wendy: no, it’s gas in the magma being released, decompression of gas and magma. Magma in Pu’u O’o and summit had a lot of gas, hadn’t been sitting around long.
(Q: is this the biggest, most energetic eruption ever, longest duration since… when? 1960?) Wendy: hard to say; Pu’u O’o was almost continuous for nearly 35 years. There have been eruptions that lasted longer: [Alai Au] that built Thurston Lava Tube lasted 50 years. There are very long duration eruptions at Hawaiian volcanoes. There’s a continuous supply of magma coming up from mantle. Rift Zone eruptions more variable because lava has to travel farther: more chances for it to be blocked, not reach surface.
(Q: Is this same eruption cycle that started in 1980? [sic])
Wendy: They’ve been discussing. Pretty much willing to call it a new eruption. Pu’u O’o shows no signs of activity except some deflation. This isn’t official; scientist in charge hasn’t made the call, still in discussion.
(Q: When was Halema’uma’u Crater created, and what was eruption like?)
Wendy: (sounds a bit stumped, says it’s on their website.) Kilauea Caldera formed in 1500s. 300 years of very explosive eruptions. Halema’uma’u first observed, documented as active lava lake in 1823. But that crater was much smaller than it is today. When it drained in 1924, smaller than today. Grew in size due to 1924 eruption. Seeing same thing with Overlook Vent lava lake crater, which has nearly doubled in size, taking up whole eastern half of the [Halema’uma’u] crater.
(Question about why they’re not monitoring volcano for gases like methane, helium(?) and effect on health). Wendy says the Department of Health does that; they have sensors around island, check their Vog Information Dashboard. Volcanologists using hand sensors and drones to measure SO2, HS, CO2, primary volcanic gasses.
(Question about interconnectivity between volcanoes on Hawaii, any indication of activity anywhere else in state?)
Wendy: continually monitoring other volcanoes in state; can check website. Everything is quiet except for Kilauea.
(Q: Is the debate about whether it counts as new eruption the reason why it hasn’t been named yet?)
Wendy: primary focus is monitoring eruption, getting correct information to Hawaii Civil Defense. All hands on deck situation, hasn’t been time to sit down and think about that yet. “People’s lives that are being impacted— those are our primary concern. Naming an eruption is not a focus of discussion at this moment in time.”


Note: Wendy is flying back to her actual job (Deputy-Scientist-in-Charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory) tomorrow. Tremendous thanks are due to her for her excellent briefings for past two weeks, especially since she doesn’t normally work on this volcano (although everyone in USGS has to study Kilauea, but I’m sure that’s why some of the questions about its ancient history were giving her pause.)