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Kilauea Volcano’s East Rift Zone Eruption: 29 Years and Counting

Jan. 3, 2012 marks the 29th anniversary of Kīlauea’s ongoing east rift zone eruption. This eruption, particularly events that occurred during the past year, will be the topic of an “After Dark in the Park” program in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, Tues., Jan. 3.

On Mar. 6, 2011, a spectacular fissure eruption between Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō and Nāpau Crater on Kīlauea’s east rift zone produced lava flows that poured into a pre-existing ground crack and advanced through an ‘ōhi‘a forest. For scale, USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists (lower right) can be seen walking toward the flow. USGS photo by Tim Orr

Tim Orr, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, will review the eruption, focusing on highlights from Kīlauea’s 2011 activity. The program begins at 7 p.m. at the park’s Kīlauea Visitor Center Auditorium. Park entrance fees apply.

The eruption began just after midnight on Jan. 3, 1983, with lava erupting to the surface along several fissures.  By June 1983, the eruption was focused at a single vent. Over the next three years, lava fountains up to 1,500 feet high roared from the vent 44 times, building a cinder-and-spatter cone named Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō.

In July 1986, the eruption shifted to Kupaianaha, a new vent farther down the east rift zone. Lava poured from this vent nearly continuously for almost six years, burning and burying Kīlauea’s south flank, including the communities of Kapa‘ahu and Kalapana, in 1986 and 1990, respectively.

Early in 1992, the eruption returned to vents on the flanks of Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō. Over the next 18 years, lava flowed down the slopes of Kīlauea, inundating areas within and outside of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National park and often reaching the sea.

During the past year, Kīlauea’s ongoing east rift zone eruption has included two spectacular fissure eruptions, a dramatic outbreak of lava from the west flank of Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō, and, on Dec. 9, 2011, a new ocean entry USGS scientists named West Ka‘ili‘ili—the first ocean entry within the boundaries of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park since 2009.

Since the eruption began in 1983, lava flows have buried 48 square miles of public and private land, destroying vast tracts of native forest, nine miles of highway, and 213 structures, including homes, a church, and the Waha‘ula Visitor Center in the park.

While Kīlauea’s current east rift zone eruption has been its most destructive event in recent history, the eruption has also been constructive. Molten lava flowing into the sea has added about 500 acres of
new land to Hawai‘i Island.

This presentation is one of many talks, guided hikes, and other programs offered by the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park as part of Hawai‘i Island’s third annual Volcano Awareness Month in January. For more information about this talk, please call 808-985-6011.

For a complete schedule of Volcano Awareness Month events, please visit the HVO Web site at www.hvo.wr.usgs.gov or call (808) 967-8844.

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