July 2: USGS Media Conference Call

This is my transcript of the July 2, 2018 11am USGS press briefing, which covered lava-created thunderstorms, whirlwinds, and rain; laze-induced lightning; and lava boats. Additionally, Mike Zoellner mentioned findings of a sonar expedition to measure the lava extending on the ocean floor.

Soundfile is archived here. BigIslandVideoNews has also posted most of it, overlaid with recent video footage:


  • Leslie Gordon, USGS Public Affairs
  • Jessica Ferracane, Hawaii Volcanoes Nat’l Park Public Affairs
  • Robert Ballard, NWS
  • Mike Zoeller, HVO & Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes, UHI
  • Brian Shiro, seismologist, USGS/HVO

Transcript note: I omit salutations/pleasantries, jumping straight to news and information. Also I usually summarize questions to provide just enough context for USGS responses.

Kilauea Status Update

Continue reading July 2: USGS Media Conference Call

July 1: Fissure 22 Is Back; Kilauea Caldera Is Sinking

Fissure 8 gushes on unchallenged and unchanged, while Fissure 22 — remember the chief subject of Lavacam?— has started spattering 50-80m and sending out a modest lava flow headed NE along the edge of previous flows.

USGS photo from morning overflight, July 1, 2018. Fissure 8 in the distance, Fissure 22 in the middle ground across from PGV. (Full-sized)

Down at the coast, lava continues to ooze out from under much of the northern part of the delta along a broad front, with “pasty” lava squeezing out in several places along Kapoho Beach Lots.

As of 8:30pm 11pm HST, I’m waiting for confirmation of the next summit collapse/explosion.

Besides Fissure 22 reactivating in earnest, the news today is that new digital elevation maps and satellite images give us a clear view of the subsidence of Kilauea Caldera around Halema’uma’u, which has begun to show in livestream and webcam views lately.

First of all, USGS seismologist Kyle Anderson posted this color-coded slide of caldera ground deformation in his Thursday evening talk:

The colors compare the new June 19, 2018 drone-surveillance digital elevation map with a DEM of the caldera captured in 2009. Presumably the light gray areas within Halema’uma’u don’t correspond to anything on the older map, so can’t be compared. Green patches are earthquakes over the past few days indicating stress. And “300+ ft” marks the last known position of the NPIT GPS sensor before it sank out of radio contact. (Full-sized)

Next, the Italian Space Agency’s trusty Cosmo-Skymed satellite has sent us another radar survey of Kilauea. Even though I’d observed dramatic subsidence of the caldera floor in recent livestream and webcam images, the last frame of this animation made me gasp:

USGS: “This animated GIF shows a sequence of radar amplitude images that were acquired by the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana CosmoSkyMed satellite system. The images illustrate changes to the caldera area of Kīlauea Volcano that occurred between May 5 and June 30 at about 6:00 a.m. HST[…] Over time, expansion of the summit eruptive vent within Halema‘uma‘u crater and the widening of Halema‘uma‘u itself are clear. Starting in late May, the development of several cracks outside Halema‘uma‘u is clear, and inward slumping of a large portion of the western, southwestern, and northern crater rim begins. Much of this motion appears to be coincident with the small explosions from the summit that have taken place on a near daily basis since early June. The most recent radar scene, from June 30, shows the formation of cracks over a broader area of the caldera floor, extending east of Halema‘uma‘u (these cracks are the scarps seen in recent photographs from the Keanakākoʻi overlook area). We expect this slumping to continue as long as the collapse events and overall subsidence persist. (Full-sized)
We are well on our way to a nested caldera, with Halema’uma’u taking up over half the larger caldera floor. I’m hoping those earthquakes indicate where the edge of the new inner caldera will be, but I’m not a geologist. Here’s those scarps they mentioned, posted a few days ago:

USGS: “Comparison of photographs taken on June 13 and 26 from near Keanakāko’i Crater overlook in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park shows a subsidence scarp that formed as the Kīlauea Crater floor subsided. Scientists estimate the dramatic dropping of the crater floor in this area occurred sometime between June 23 and 26. The view is to the west. Halema‘uma‘u crater is in upper right.” (Full-sized)

Last but not least, the USGS posted this map of the fracturing around Halema’uma’u. Note that the diagram is projected onto a satellite photo of the pre-May caldera, so there’s a ghostly image of the Halema’uma’u we remember in that dark gray area.

USGS: “This map shows major fractures in yellow (as of June 29) on a base image acquired by the WorldView-2 satellite before the current sequence of events began at Kīlauea. The area of major subsidence has expanded east and south, and slightly west, of the main Halema‘uma‘u crater area. The large, red-shaded area east of Halema‘uma‘u is moving down within a scarp-bounded area, as seen in recent photographs of the summit. Some fractures have also formed to the east-northeast of the red-shaded area of accelerated motion, and also on the south caldera rim where parts of the caldera wall have slumped into the rapidly moving caldera floor below. The dark gray-shaded area within the red shaded area shows the region of most significant down dropping and is currently the deepest part of Kīlauea caldera.” (Full-sized)

So there you have it.  Who would’ve thought the draining of the lava lake, which was minuscule compared to the whole summit caldera, would’ve had a domino effect this large?

The rest of this post is a fairly sparse weekend roundup of a few news stories, videos and photos, plus of course the usual science geeking with USGS. Which leaves you time to browse the USGS Thursday evening talk I transcribed today!
Continue reading July 1: Fissure 22 Is Back; Kilauea Caldera Is Sinking

June 30: Kapoho Beach Lots Burning Again

Fissure 8 continues to behave much as it has for the last month or so, looking ever more like a Mordor backdrop:

June 30, 2018: Fissure 8 looking Mordor-like during the USGS morning overflight. (Full-sized)

Today’s official HVO Kilauea update is a copy-and-paste of yesterday’s, apart from this small addition describing the lava delta: “lava is moving beneath the crust and into [the] still-molten interior of earlier flows before it enters the sea in multiple oozeouts.” Like this:

USGS: “Lava was entering the ocean over a broad area this morning. This image shows an active entry area along the northern flow front at Kapoho. View to the south.” (Full-sized)

Unfortunately, some of those “oozeouts” are occurring at the edge of Kapoho Beach Lots as well. At least one home burned today, perhaps more.

Check the Hawaii County Fire Department photos later in this post (or the Bruce Omori photos at the end of the post) to see what the slow-moving expansion into Kapoho Beach Lots looks like right now.

USGS: “View of Kīlauea Volcano’s summit [from Volcano House, I think]. The brown visible dust coming from Halema‘uma‘u is from rockfalls.” (Full-sized)

Kilauea’s summit is changing visibly day by day. Today’s collapse explosion came at 2:51pm, 31 hours after the previous event. Mag 5.3, as usual, with a 500-foot ash-poor plume (captured on livestream). It was somewhat obscured by dust from multiple rockfalls 3 minutes earlier. Here’s a before-and-after:

More USGS Morning Overflight Photos

Continue reading June 30: Kapoho Beach Lots Burning Again

June 28: Media Visits Damaged Park, Views Crater

Early morning USGS photo of Fissure 8 on June 28, 2018. (Full-sized)
Today’s eruption summary

Exactly 8 weeks after the Lower East Rift Zone eruption began in Leilani Estates on May 3, Fissure 8 continues to gush unabated. Its fountains are contained within its 55-meter (180 ft) cone, and this morning’s overflight showed no active overflows.

For the past day or so, the lava river has crusted over on the last half mile to the ocean. This has allowed lava seeps, described by Steve Brantley in his Tuesday evening  talk, to creep into still-molten earlier flows on the northern side of the lava delta. This “lava seepage” is oozing into the ocean along a broad front, encroaching  onto what’s left of Kapoho Beach Lots on the northern edge of the flow:

USGS: “View of the ocean entry (lower left) from this morning’s overflight. Lava was entering the ocean across a broad area primarily on the north part of the lava delta. Upslope along the northern margin of the flow field, lava is still oozing from several points in the area of Kapoho Beach Lots. Fissure 8 lava fountain in the upper left. Note southward bend in the lava channel around Kapoho Crater.” (Full-sized)

At Kilauea’s summit, the most recent collapse explosion occurred at 4:49am this morning, sending up an ash-poor plume about 1000 feet, with the energy release of a 5.3 earthquake. The sides of Halema’uma’u continue to collapse inward and downwards, especially during each explosive event.

Increased seismicity in the hours leading up to each explosion, up to 25-35 small earthquakes an hour, is wearing on the nerves of nearby Volcano Village. The USGS is meeting with them tonight to talk about the ongoing earthquakes, and released an excellent FAQ today: Frequently Asked Questions About Kilauea Volcano’s Summit Earthquakes.”

Local News Outlets Given Brief Tour of Summit

The big news today is that the National Park Service and USGS arranged a brief escorted tour for local news media to the rim of Kilauea Caldera, which has been closed to visitors for 49 days. There was also a half hour press briefing.

So today there’s suddenly a lot more videos and views of what the caldera looks like:

In fact, I’m going to put the news media links before the science segment of today’s post. Boldfaced articles include quotes, videos, and/or photos from the media summit tour.

Continue reading June 28: Media Visits Damaged Park, Views Crater

June 26: Steve Brantley’s Tuesday USGS Presentation

On June 26, 2018, Deputy Scientist-in-Chief of the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, Steve Brantley, gave a ten-minute slideshow at the Puna Community Meeting in Pahoa. Video of the meeting is posted here. Steve Brantley’s talk starts at 35:00 in that video.

BigIslandVideoNews excerpted half of his talk in this video, which they overlaid with footage from a June 24 USGS drone overflight of the summit:

Below is my transcript of the complete talk, including images that match or approximate his slides.

Steve Brantley (USGS):

Hello, everybody. Thank you for coming out.

I’ll just describe a few things occurring in the Lower East Rift Zone and then summarize the activity up at the summit at the very end.

Continue reading June 26: Steve Brantley’s Tuesday USGS Presentation

June 27: Farm Animals Airlifted


Here’s an excellent 13-minute retrospective of Kilauea’s eruptions from the early 20th century right through June 25, 2018.

Now back to the present.

Today’s Eruption Summary
USGS: “At 10:41 p.m. HST on June 26, after approximately 25 hours of elevated seismicity, a collapse explosion occurred at the summit producing an ash-poor steam plume that rose less than 1,000 ft above the ground surface before drifting to the southwest. The event was captured by an HVO webcam in moonlight (plume in bottom of photo), located in the HVO observation tower.” (Full-sized)

It’s 11:30pm HST, and it looks like today’s “collapse explosion” is going to happen tomorrow. Are the explosion spacing themselves out more now?  Too early to tell. There has been always some variation in their timing, despite the fact that it feels like we’re watching a magmatic equivalent of Old Faithful.

View of Fissure 8 cone and lava channel from USGS morning overflight. (Full-sized)

Meanwhile, Fissure 8 continues exactly what it has for— what, a month now? Fountains contained within its 180-foot spatter cone continue to pour out an 8-mile river of lava. Occasional spillovers near the head of the river usually don’t go past the margin of previous flows in this eruption. Fissure 22 is once again showing “incandescence” and pushing out small, short lava flows.

The ocean entry area fans out across a 1-km stretch of coast, but the bulk of the lava is dumping into the sea from Fissure 8’s main channel. Unfortunately, the northern margin of the lava flow has reactivated, too, pushing further into what’s left of Kapoho Beach Lots community.

USGS on Twitter: “Morning overflight revealed northern margin of flow field at the coast is oozing fresh #lava at several points in the area of #KapohoBeachLots. Small channel overflows feed short #pahoehoe flows.” (Full-sized)

USGS: “Lava continues to enter the sea along the southern Kapoho coastline. Lava enters the ocean primarily through an open channel, but also along a 1-km (0.6 mi) wide area. Also visible in the image (center right) is an area at the northern margin of the flow field that is oozing fresh lava at several points in the area of Kapoho Beach Lots.” (Full-sized)

And that’s about it. Except that even with status quo, there’s some unusual sights and itoday. Such as this literal “Lava boat”:

Continue reading June 27: Farm Animals Airlifted

June 26: Drone Video of Halema’uma’u Crater

Today’s Eruption Summary

Kilauea’s double eruption continues with no significant changes: Fissure 8 is still pumping out lava,  and the summit is continuing to settle. The ocean entry has expanded to two miles wide, with its southern edge creeping south just onshore.

Here’s a timelapse of all the USGS lava flow maps since lava started moving away from fissures in May:

Fissure 22 is sputtering and sending out tepid little lava flows that don’t go anywhere, while Fissures 16/18 were “incandescent” during the morning overflight.

June 26th’s collapse explosion waited a full 29+ hours, just to keep us on our toes, occurring at 10:41pm HST.  The energy release was 5.4 with a 1000-foot ash plume.

Yesterday’s Mick Kalber Overflight:

While the daily collapse explosions at Kilauea’s summit haven’t sent up much ash lately, they’re still giving off a voggy burp of sulfur dioxide. And some of the ash that fell earlier is still blowing around and irritating communities at the southwest end of the island:

USGS: “Recent explosive events haven’t produced significant ash plumes from the summit, but downwind communities may still experience ashfall when previously erupted ash is remobilized. On authorized permission from Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, our Unmanned Aircraft Systems crew is conducting gas measurements at Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō. They snapped this photograph from Chain of Craters Road – a plume of remobilized ash is clearly visible along the horizon. It is rising from the Ka‘ū Desert and blowing to the southwest.” (Full-sized)

The big news today is that the USGS posted new drone footage of Halema’uma’u Crater.

Full video below. If you want extra drama, here’s a version with a soundtrack added.

HVO/Jaggar Museum are the low dun-colored buildings (same color as the bluff they’re sitting on, well-camouflaged) swing into view at the top of the screen around 2:30 and are middle of screen at 2:40 just before it shifts to a new view. (The larger, more conspicuous buildings near the beginning of the video are the old Kilauea Military Camp and the Volcano Golf Country Club).

Here’s an aerial photo of Halema’uma’u from April 13, 2018 for comparison, with Jaggar Museum/HVO at the top of those stairstep bluffs in the background, middle right. Here’s another view of the two buildings.

USGS caption for today’s drone video:

Continue reading June 26: Drone Video of Halema’uma’u Crater

June 25: Ahulanui Ponds May Be Next

Today’s Eruption Summary

Fissure 8 is status quo. Today’s HVO Kiluaea status report says its cone is now 180feet tall. Its flow front has broadened southwards, widening to two miles, moving south on shore as well as continuing to expand offshore (lava delta acreage: ~405). The main channel/ocean entry remains on the southern side of the front, with minor entries in a 1-kilometer zone.

The lava Fissure 22 is weakly active; no activity observed at 16/18.

USGS: “This animated gif shows the fissure 8 tephra (cinder and spatter) cone morphology changes between June 15 and 24, 2018. During this time a shoulder grew on the channel side of the cone as the vent shifted from being two distinct fountains to three, then to a single source of voluminous roiling. The cone height is about 47 m (154 ft) from the hardened lava surface on which it was built.” Note: This isn’t a webcam but a temporary camera they set up; they have to download pictures manually. (Full-sized)

According to Mike Zoeller (UHI) at today’s 11AM conference call, the lava delta is advancing at less than 50m/day; it was 200/day a week ago.  The southern edge of the flow is a kilometer from Ahalanui Beach Park. Over the weekend, he observed top lava speeds of 25kph (15.5mph); Leslie Gordon (USGS) saw it max out at 35kph (21.75mph) last Friday night.

USGS: “USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geology field crews maintain watch over the eruptive activity in the lower East Rift Zone and at Kīlauea’s summit. Here, a geologist documents the behavior of lava as it exits the Fissure 8 cone. Lava enters the upper channel traveling as fast as 30 km/hour (18 mi/hour).” (Full-sized)

After yesterday’s collapse explosion at 4:12, seismicity dropped from a high of 25-35 quakes an hour down to less than 10,  but had started to creep up again and was averaging 30 by dawn. On the livestream, I observed clouds of ash/dust in the crater’s interior at various times during the day. Today’s collapse explosion occurred at 5:03pm, equivalent of a 5.3, ash-poor plume rising less than 2000 feet.

Jun 24: chasing rainbows and lava with Mick Kalber. He was checking on a lava spillover uncomfortably near his house!  (Helicopter noise)

Reminder: HVO downgraded Kilauea’s aviation alert to ORANGE last night, because ash explosions have rarely risen above 10,000 feet since May.

Continue reading June 25: Ahulanui Ponds May Be Next

June 24: Aviation Color Code Dropped to Orange

Today’s Eruption Summary

The new news today is that HVO/USGS downgraded Kilauea’s FAA warning level:

“Since late May, these collapse/explosion events have rarely produced significant ash plumes rising more than 10,000 feet above sea level where they can pose a significant hazard to aviation. For this reason, HVO is reducing the aviation color code from RED to ORANGE.”

Full text of this HVO Volcanic Activity Notice | Guide to Codes

June 24, 2018. USGS early morning overflight of Fissure 8. (Full-sized)

I almost feel like the recent code downgrades for Kilauea and Mauna Loa were a tacit rebuttal of the scaremongers trying to conjure an island-wide catastrophe out of hot air. But I suppose I’m being as irrational as they are. There were specific numbers and criteria for both these status changes.

Down at the LERZ, status quo continues. Fissure 8’s lava fountains are vigorous but seldom peep over the cone they’ve built (now 180′). Minor overflows spill out near the head of the lava river without going far. The ocean entry is concentrated mostly at the main lava channel channel near the south end of the lava delta, but some fans out along a 1km stretch.

USGS: “The spatter cone at fissure 8 is now about 55 m (180 ft) tall. Lava fountains rise only occasionally above that point, sending a shower of tephra (cooled lava fragments) over the rim.” (Full-sized)

Today’s collapse explosion went off at 4:12pm, M5.3, partly hidden on the livestream by a dust cloud from rockfalls 4 minutes earlier. Just as yesterday, I noticed the “collapse explosion” started with a visible camera shake, unlike earlier rockfalls that made me think, “Waaaaait— was that it?” The explosion itself didn’t send up much dust past the rim of Halema’uma’u. About a minute later, dust from caldera wall rockfalls (I think?) blew past.

Below: Rockfalls, dust cloud, then I fast forwarded to the collapse explosion.

Today’s USGS Kilauea update gave additional details for yesterday’s explosion which probably apply to today’s as well: “Seismicity dropped abruptly from a high of 25-30 earthquakes per hour (many in the magnitude 2-3 range) prior to the collapse explosion down to 10 or less earthquakes per hour afterwards. Within 4 hours seismicity began to creep up again averaging about 25 earthquakes per hour by daybreak (June 24)” i.e. about 14 hours later.

Continue reading June 24: Aviation Color Code Dropped to Orange