Photo taken by: United States Geological Survey

Kilauea Volcano Facts

 

The Kilauea Volcano is the youngest volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island. Because when viewed from above it seems tiny in comparison to the neighboring volcano Mauna Loa, Kilauea was originally believed to simply be a satellite of Mauna Loa instead of a distinct volcano. Research that has taken place during the last decades, however, shows that not only is Kilauea a separate volcano, but its magna-plumbing system actually goes over 60 kilometers deep into the earth. The Kilauea Volcano sits on a curved line made up of other volcanoes such as Kohala and Mauna Kea.

Description

The highest point on the Kilauea Volcano is slightly less than 4,200 feet. In addition, it has a large caldera at the summit that is 3 kilometers by 5 kilometers wide at the main depression but is 6 kilometers by 6 kilometers at the outermost faults and goes down 165 meters deep. The entire area of the volcano is 552 square meters. The oldest rocks found on the volcano date back 23,000 years and scientists estimate that the first eruption occurred between 300,000 and 600,000 years ago. Despite this, about 90% of the basaltic shield volcano found on the surface is made from lava flows that occurred less than 1000 years ago while 70% of the actual volcano’s surface is 600 years old or younger. The volcano gets its name, Kilauea, from the Hawaiian word meaning much spreading or spewing, referencing the frequent lava flows.

Nearby Wildlife

Because of the constant activity of the Kilauea Volcano, there are semi-frequent acid rains in the nearby Ka’u Desert, a barren region to the south of the volcano’s southwestern rift zone. Despite this, wildlife still manages to flourish in several nearby areas, especially those that are more or less undisturbed by the volcanic activity. In the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which contains most of Kilauea’s southern ecosystem, you will find a wide range of bird species in addition to several endangered species of sea turtles.

Eruption History

In addition to being the youngest volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, the Kilauea Volcano is actually the most active of the state’s volcanoes in recent years; in fact it is one of the most active volcanoes on the entire planet. The volcano has been present in many Polynesian legends and it has been almost constantly active since the first recorded eruption which occurred around the year 1750. Most of the volcanic activity at Kilauea between 1750 and 1924 was smaller and originated in the lava lake found at the summit. In 1924, however, the volcano had an explosive eruption and from then to 1955 there was a period of short eruptions.

Current Eruption

Impressively enough, the current eruption of the Kilauea Volcano, named Pu’u O’o started 30 years ago! It began on January 3, 1983 at which point ground fissures opened and thin streams of molten lava appeared from a 7 kilometer long fissure. Throughout the course of the current eruption, the main exit point of the lava has shifted several times. It spent the first 3.5 years erupting from a central vent but in July of 1986, it suddenly moved down the rift 3 kilometers to the Kupaianaha shield, where it stayed until early 1992. When the eruption point changed, so did the style, shifting from high fountaining occurring in episodes to a continuous but quiet effusion in a lava pond.

In November of 1986, lava from this eruption point met the ocean at a point 12 kilometers away and covered Kapa’ahu along the way. The most destructive phase of the Kilauea Volcano’s current eruption began in 1990 when its lava flows flooded Kalapana, a nearby village where it destroyed more than 100 homes in just 9 months. The lava flow declined throughout 1991 but in 1992, eruptions began once again. Now lava flows usually come through the lava tubes and go into the ocean and there are few surface flows.

Throughout the current eruption, lava flows have varied greatly, ranging from 300,000 to 600,000 cubic meters each day and there were actually 24 days during early 1997 in which there was no eruptive activity.

Research And Preservation

At the rim of the Kilauea Volcano you will find the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, which was founded in 1912 by Thomas Jagger and this is where most of the research on the volcano takes place. In addition, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was created in 1916 by Woodrow Wilson. This began the area’s path towards becoming a World Heritage Site.

Tourism

The first hotels appeared around the rim of the Kilauea Volcano in the 1840s. After the area became a National Park in 1916, tourism continued to increase greatly. Today around 2.6 million tourists visit the volcano and surrounding areas each year, mostly due to its location in beautiful Hawaii combined with its active yet docile nature.

Location

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