USGS: Kilauea lava lake levels remain high in Halema'uma'u Crater

10pm report: Kilauea lava lake spills over Halema'uma'u Crater; rockfall triggers explosion
Published: Apr. 24, 2015 at 1:56 AM HST|Updated: May. 1, 2015 at 2:56 PM HST
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A rockfall at the Halemaumau Crater triggered an explosion on Tuesday morning (Image source:...
A rockfall at the Halemaumau Crater triggered an explosion on Tuesday morning (Image source: USGS)
April 29 (Image source: USGS)
April 29 (Image source: USGS)

KILAUEA VOLCANO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - The lava lake is rising in Halema'uma'u Crater and it's putting on quite the show for visitors who have been able to see spattering above the crater rim and the loud popping of rocks as the crater walls expand with heat.

USGS geologists with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory say the Kilauea summit lava lake level has been at or near the rim of the Overlook Crater -- the smaller crater within the Halema'uma'u Crater -- since Tuesday. At 9:40 p.m. Tuesday, the lava briefly overflowed onto the floor of the Halema'uma'u Crater. It then overflowed again at 2 a.m. and then at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Since then, the flows have been brief and slowing down as the lava lake level fell and lava subsided back into the Overlook Crater. No change in lava spattering or surface circulation patterns have been seen.

The recent overflows have built up the rim of the Overlook Crater roughly 4 yards above the floor of the Halema'uma'u Crater, geologists said. On Friday morning, the lava level was slightly higher and very close to the rim of the Overlook Crater.

The USGS said based on similar lava lake activity at Halema'uma'u in the 1800s and early 1900s, the current overflows are likely to continue intermittently. 

A rockfall from the wall of the Halema'uma'u Crater Tuesday morning also triggered an explosion of spatter and smaller particles. HVO geologists said the explosion deposited a large amount of spatter around the closed visitor overlook. 

"There was a lot of spattering that visitors are able to see from the Jaggar Museum observation deck and also a lot of rumbling sounds as the crater walls heat up and the rocks fall into that roiling lava lake below. After the sun sets and the darkness starts to come in, that dramatic glow from the lava lake casting it's reflection on the clouds and on the plume of gas and ash coming out of there -- it is just super dramatic and beautiful. Everybody is just super happy to see this. The action isn't always like this so the people who are lucky enough to be here right now are really in for a treat this evening," said Jessica Ferracane, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spokesperson.

Dozens, many of them local residents gathered at the Jaggar Museum overlook for the past couple of evenings to catch the breathtaking show. National Park Services said Monday visitors waited up to 30 minutes or longer just to park. In response, park rangers will be directing vehicles to park at the Kilauea Military Camp ball field. From there, visitors can hike to the Jaggar Museum observation deck, the closest and best vantage point to see the lava lake. 

"Visitors should come prepared to ensure a safe and enjoyable park experience," said Superintendent Cindy Orlando. "We encourage people to avoid peak hours, and arrive after 10 p.m. and before 4 a.m. if possible, or they will likely wait in line for parking. The park remains open 24 hours a day," she said.

Tips for an optimal viewing experience:

  • Be prepared to hike one mile each way between Kilauea Military Camp ball field and the Jaggar Museum observation deck on Crater Rim Trail.
  • Wear sturdy closed-toe shoes, bring rain gear, water, binoculars, a flashlight, and extra batteries.
  • Carpool if possible to reduce the number of vehicles in the parking areas. As a courtesy to other visitors, no “tailgating” in the Jaggar Museum or Kilauea Overlook parking lots.
  • Choose another picnic location so others have a chance to view the eruption.
  • To observe viewing and weather conditions, monitor the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory webcams. The KI camera provides a panoramic view of Halema‘uma‘u Crater from HVO.
  • High levels of dangerous sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas and volcanic ash can be blown over Jaggar Museum by southerly winds. These gases are a danger to everyone, particularly to people with heart or respiratory problems, young children and pregnant women.

HVO scientists say it's unclear whether the lake will continue to rise. They say it cycles through filling and falling.

In the meantime, Kilauea Volcano's East Rift Zone lava flow continues to feed widespread breakouts northeast of Pu'u 'O'o. The front of the breakout that is farthest downslope is about five miles from the vent and doesn't pose any immediate threat to any area communities.

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