Has Kīlauea volcano stopped erupting lava, 5 months to the day after it began? The nearly complete crusting over of the open lava lake surface has made it difficult to tell, but live monitoring data of the lava lake’s depth by the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory suggest no signs of injection beneath the cooling crust. Continuous measurements by a novel laser rangefinder shows no lifting of the hardened lava since one week ago on May 13th.
The final opening in the previously liquid 112-acre molten lake is only spattering lava intermittently, with HVO scientists reporting that “during an approximately one-hour visit to the crater rim, [the] only observation of active lava was […] crustal foundering […] which lasted approximately five minutes” on May 18th.
Beneath the crust, the core of the 752-foot (229 m) deep lava lake would remain liquid for over a century if left undisturbed, though that stability is unlikely in this dynamic volcanic landscape which exactly three years ago was in the midst of a 3-month, 1600-foot (500 m) collapse. That liquid will continue degassing, and the moving gas bubbles will carry and eject lava if they can, as is currently evident in these waning stages of eruptive activity.
Even after the crust is fully solidified, a rejuvenation of activity is still possible and fairly common among historical eruptions. Most recently, the 2018 vent in the Lower East Rift Zone now officially named Ahuʻailāʻau, ceased the bulk of its lava output on August 4th. After activity ceased within its crater, lava re-appeared briefly from September 1st to 6th, marking the final effusion of the 2018 eruption.
The volcano continues to slowly swell, and the pressure building underground could also reactivate the vent or shift the ground beneath the lake before resuming the eruption. The most recent USGS-HVO update states that based on reduced SO2 emission rates, “this implies a decrease in lava effusion rate that may indicate a coming pause in eruptive activity.” Only time will tell whether the current trend means the end of the eruption or only a temporary pause.
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