Threat level at Kilauea lowered, signaling the end of an eruptive era

Updated: Mar. 27, 2019 at 5:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Residents who live and work along parts of Hawaii Island’s decimated lower east rift zone can rest a little easier tonight — current eruptions at Kilauea appear to be over for now.

The Hawaii Volcano Observatory lowered the alert level at Kilauea from “advisory” to “normal” on Tuesday, signifying what the agency says is a return to a non-eruptive state.

It’s the lowest of the agency’s four alert levels, which also escalate up to “watch” and “warning.”

The aviation warning color that’s issued by the U.S. Geological Survey was also lowered from “yellow” to “green" on Tuesday.

“Now we’re in this new phase of magma recharge on the volcano,” explained Matthew Patrick, a geologist with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. “Magma is basically creeping into the summit magma chamber. It’s also creeping into the east rift zone magma storage system.”

Simply put, the changes as far as alert levels are concerned mean there’s little to worry about at Kilauea for the time being: there’s no active lava to keep an eye on, no cloud of ash to avoid, and no dangerous gas to be weary of.

The summit of the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii Island. (Image: USGS/HVO)
The summit of the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii Island. (Image: USGS/HVO)

Hazards in many areas do still exist; dangerously sharp fields of hardened lava rock cover wide swaths of land between Pahoa and Pohoiki, and large cracks in the ground in places like Leilani Estates still constantly emit clouds of steam that could easily burn passersby.

But it’s a drastic change from the conditions at the volcano nearly a year ago, when earthquakes were daily occurrences and ash clouds above the summit crater were visible for miles around.

Quiet as the volcano might be at the moment, scientists caution that there’s no telling how long the respite will last. Kilauea remains active and ‘will erupt again,’ though it’s impossible to be sure when exactly that might happen.

“On the basis of these observations, we think it most likely that the next eruption of Kilauea will take place in the caldera within a few years, and that the next eruption on one of the volcano’s rift zones will be in a decade or longer,” reads a portion of the HVO’s latest volcanic activity notice.

HVO employees had to evacuate last May and their building at the summit was heavily damaged by ground cracking.

They moved to the University of Hawaii at Hilo campus and then most of them relocated to a federal building in Hilo once students returned in the fall.

“Many of us are in this phase of digging into the data and really trying to see what it reveals,” said Patrick.

They’re also using their monitoring system which is still operating in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

“There were a few sites on the caldera floor that were destroyed by the caldera collapse, but the majority of the system remained intact and all of the data transmission and telemetry remained intact, too,” said Patrick.

HVO employees are preparing to move to a third temporary site for the next few years while a decision is made about a permanent location.

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