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Lava lake from Halemaumau Crater eruption now covers 33 acres, scientists say

Updated: Dec. 22, 2020 at 6:01 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - An eruption that started Sunday night at Kilauea’s Halemaumau Crater has stabilized — at least for now.

The U.S. Geological Survey said preliminary data showed a lava lake that formed during the eruption covers an area that’s about 33 acres large in the Halemaumau Crater.

Experts said as of Monday night, two of the three fissures that erupted were still active, spilling more lava into the bottom of the crater and continuing to attract spectators from around the island.

The eruption created a fiery show Sunday night into the early hours of Monday morning, sending plume of smoke into the air and briefly prompting concerns about ashfall in parts of the Big Island.

By about 6 a.m. Monday, Hawaii County Civil Defense and Hawaiian Volcano Observatory officials reported the eruption had “stabilized” within the crater.

And later in the morning, USGS experts downgraded the eruption’s threat level to a watch and its aviation alert to orange, from red.

“It has been a pretty magnificent evening, not a lot of sleep here,” said Jessica Ferracane, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spokeswoman, adding that she encountered a line of cars headed into the park at 10:30 p.m. Sunday. “The park is open. You can come and see this,” she said.

There were no widespread threats from the unexpected eruption, and no evacuations were ever needed ― as the activity was confined to the crater. Scientists said they have no reason to suspect any fissures or threatening activity would happen along the lower East Rift Zone, where homes are located.

HVO acting Scientist-in-Charge David Phillips said the observatory is closely monitoring the volcano.

The eruption began around 9:30 p.m. Sunday, ending a two-year period of “non-eruptive unrest” following a massive eruption in the lower East Rift Zone that destroyed hundreds of home and whole communities.

By 1 a.m., USGS officials reported lava fountains that shot about 165 feet into the sky were feeding a growing lava lake within the crater. They said a fissure in the northwest wall of the crater was highly active. The lake replaced the water that was once seen in the deepest part of the crater.

The National Weather Service also issued an alert until 2 a.m. Monday warning of the possibility of heavy ash falling onto some areas of South Hawaii. But later analysis of data showed the plume that rose from the eruption was mostly steam ― and not filled with ash or other debris.

Additionally, USGS logged a magnitude 4.4 earthquake on Kilauea’s south flank around 10:36 p.m. The epicenter was located at a depth of 3.4 miles, and was far too weak to trigger any tsunami threat.

Officials said Big Island residents reported “weak to light shaking.”

The glow from the eruption confined to the crater could be seen from as far away as the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea.

Community activist and former Big Island mayoral candidate Ikaika Marzo headed to the crater and shared video on social media.

“Right now, there’s some spattering happening within the caldera,” he said.

Ferracane added that the summit eruption is a bit of a return to normal; there was lava in the caldera for a decade before the 2018 eruption. But there’s much more now.

“The depth, the width and the character of the caldera has changed because of the summit collapse in 2018,” she said. “It feels like it’s 40 times bigger so it was so exciting to see it last night.”

She added, “I tried to get sleep, but I couldn’t. I had to get right back up here.”

This story will be updated.

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