May 19 USGS Press Conference on Kilauea’s Explosive Side

BigIslandVideoNews just put up an edited video of Saturday’s USGS press conference. My hero Don Swanson is there. It’s INCREDIBLY informative on what they think is happening at the summit and why they think it’s a repeat of the “much smaller eruptions” of 1924 and not larger ones.


Continue reading May 19 USGS Press Conference on Kilauea’s Explosive Side

About the 1790 Kilauea Eruption

Here’s a summary and primary sources collected by HVO geologist Don Swanson on a 1790 explosive episode of Kilauea.

Also see USGS factsheet, “Explosive Eruptions at Kilauea, Hawai’i?” compiled prior to the 2018 eruptions. Diagram from this page:

3-part diagram: at left, a full lava lake with a long chimney of magma supplying it from below; in the middle is the same lava lake with the lava level dropping way down the chimney, below the water table, so that the upper walls of the chimney are cool enough for groundwater to seep in. Rocks falling from the chimney's walls are starting to choke it. The third and last phase of the diagram shows that groundwater has heated to steam and built up pressure below the rockfall until it builds up enough steam to shoot the blockage straight up out of the chimney.
USGS Diagram Explaining Cause of Steam Eruptions

The factsheet notes that “Many of Kilauea’s pre-1924 explosive eruptions that produced significant ash deposits probably happened when the volcano’s summit crater was so deep that its floor was below the water table, letting ground water seep in to form a lake.

If I’m understanding correctly, they’re saying that bigger explosions may happen when there’s a lake of water, i.e. more fuel to create steam.

Edited to add: HVO’s page outlining the history of Kilauea Caldera also goes into past explosive episodes. Final paragraph:

“Having pieced together the recent geologic past of Kīlauea, scientists conclude that the volcano will eventually return to a long period of mostly explosive activity, just as it did around 1500 CE. This future explosive period will probably accompany a significant decrease in the magma supply rate and be initiated by collapse of a new caldera to the depth of the water table, which today is about 615 m (2015 ft) below the present high point on the caldera rim. For now, effusive eruptions dominate Kīlauea.”

Note: that’s a new caldera, the much larger basin containing Halema’uma’u crater within it, and the vent that’s erupting ash explosions right now was a small lava lake covering only part of the floor of Halema’uma’u. Orders of magnitude different in terms of size. Also, changing the location of the active vent doesn’t mean the magma supply inside is dropping.