Scientists report fissure 8 has 'almost shut down completely'

Published: Aug. 5, 2018 at 5:55 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 7, 2018 at 7:52 AM HST
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BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Fissure no. 8 appears to have almost shut down completely.

That's one way the U.S. Geological Survey described activity at the Lower East Rift Zone during a telephone press conference on Monday.

"This morning's overflight crew saw a weak to moderately active bubbling lava lake within the fissure 8 cone, a weak gas plume, and a completely crusted lava channel," the USGS said in a different report.

And on Tuesday morning, the Hawaii Volcano Observatory reported that eruptive activity had decreased with only a glow from fissure 8 and few earthquakes felt near the Kilauea summit.

So after over three months, is the eruption in the Lower East Rift Zone finally over?

Scientists aren't sure.

"Clearly we're in a pause or a lull, and we just have to wait and watch in the coming days and weeks ahead," said Tina Neal, Scientist-in-Charge of the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

The USGS says the fissure may continue to slow down, but it also might start back up.

"In 1955 there was an eruption that went on for 88 days, and it did include two shutdowns of five and 16 days, and so that's a model for what might be happening," Neal said.

It is equally unknown what may have caused the drastic decrease in activity from fissure no. 8. Scientists believe it could be a slow down in magma supply to the Kilauea summit reservoir, or maybe a blockage in the volcano's system. Either way, the USGS says the stoppage didn't come out of nowhere.

"We did see some hints that this might be coming," Neal said.

The agency says beginning in early to mid-July there were "some changes in various parameters that, now in retrospect, were early signs of the system going through a change."

At one time, Fissure no. 8 spewed lava over 18 stories high, feeding a vast lava channel that flowed to the ocean. On Sunday, a completely crusted lava channel was photographed. (Photo: USGS)

If over, this means the end to an eruption that displaced thousands of people, destroyed over 700 homes, and added over 850 acres of land to the Big Island.

As of Tuesday, the USGS says active lava is close to the Pohoiki boat ramp but has not advanced significantly toward it.

Meanwhile, activity at Kilauea's summit is equally quiet. After following a pattern of near-daily collapse and explosions events since May, Halemaumau has only experienced very low rates of seismicity since Saturday.

"The deformation at the summit as measured by tiltmeter and GPS instruments has virtually stopped," The USGS said.

The Middle East Rift Zone is also showing signs of life.

Puu Oo, the vent responsible for much of Kilauea's activity over the past 35 years, is expelling large amounts of gas from it's summit.

The vent collapsed and stopped erupting mere days before lava began springing up in Leilani Estates in early May, leading some to speculate that Puu Oo was done for good.

On Friday, the USGS recorded an emission rate of over 1,000 tons of sulfur dioxide per day from the vent. The agency says this the highest rate from Puu Oo in more than 10 years.

"It does mean that there is magma at a very shallow level below Puu Oo," said Janet Babb, USGS geologist.

Even with new activity at the vent, Babb says the possibility lava erupting from Puu Oo again is a long shot.

This story will be updated.

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