Scientists were expecting an eruption at Halemaumau crater, but not so soon

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Updated: Dec. 21, 2020 at 11:30 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kilauea was showing sings of increased activity in recent weeks, but experts acknowledged Monday that the crater eruption came as a surprise.

David Phillips, acting scientist-in-charge of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said they had been planning to announce a change in alert status to a higher level for Kilauea on Monday.

“We knew that there was some activity taking place, higher than background levels ... and then we ended up just going straight from advisory straight up to an eruption,” Phillips said.

At 5:30 a.m. Monday, he said there were three active fissures spewing out lava within the crater.

That lava was flowing down into the crater and feeding a lava lake that has since replaced the water that was once there.

He said that water boiled up and evaporated when the hot lava came in contact with it, thus resulting in the thick plume seen rising from the crater.

By 6 a.m., Civil Defense officials said the situation at the summit had stabilized.

The US Geological Survey reported two of three fissures were active.

Below is an aerial breakdown of the fissures in relation to the basin of the crater. The red dots indicate where the fissures are located:

This aerial view shows the lake that was once within the crater. The three red dots indicate...
This aerial view shows the lake that was once within the crater. The three red dots indicate where the fissures broke out Sunday.(USGS)

An element of the eruption that’s reassuring to Hawaii Island residents: Scientists say this is far different from the 2018 Kilauea eruption and it likely won’t threaten homes or communities directly.

“The activity that we expect, and the observations that we’ve made so far, all indications are that the activity will be sustained here within the summit, and will not impact other regions,” Phillips said.

He added there is a small chance that could change, but they are keeping a close eye on all the activity.

This story may be updated.

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