Eruption continues at Kilauea with lava erupting from vents on the NW side of the crater, Hawaii


Lava activity at Hawai'ian Kilauea volcano is confined to Halemaʻumaʻu with lava erupting from vents on the northwest side of the crater, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) reported at 19:11 UTC on January 5, 2021. Early January 5 (UTC), the lava lake was 191 m (627 feet) deep and perched above its edge. SO2 emission rates were still elevated.

Sulfur dioxide emission rate measurements made on January 3 were still in the range 3 000 – 6 500 t/d since December 27–the same range of values that were common for emissions from the pre-2018 lava lake, HVO said.

Summit tiltmeters recorded weak deflationary tilt since January 1, 2021. Seismicity remained elevated but stable, with steadily elevated tremor and a few minor earthquakes.

Geodetic monitors indicate that the upper portion of the East Rift Zone (between the summit and Puʻu ʻŌʻō) contracted while the summit deflated at the onset of this eruption (December 21, 2020). There is no seismic or deformation data to indicate that additional magma is currently moving into either of Kīlauea’s rift zones.

The west vents spattered from the top of a small cone plastered on the northwest wall of Halemaʻumaʻu crater.

On the morning of January 5 (HST), lava is flowing down a narrow channel to the lake and feeding a small dome fountain in front of the west vents probably from a submerged portion of the vent.

The lava lake was 191 m (623 feet) deep Monday afternoon (HST) and had a volume of about 26 million cubic meters (34 million cubic yards). The most recent thermal map — December 30, 2020 — provided the lake dimensions as 800 by 530 m (875 by 580 yards) for a total area of 33 ha (82 acres)

Image credit: USGS/HVO

A helicopter overflight on December 30, 2020, at approximately 10:00 HST allowed for aerial visual and thermal imagery to be collected of the eruption within Halema'uma'u crater at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano. The scale of the thermal map ranges from blue to red, with blue colors indicative of cooler temperatures and red colors indicative of warmer temperatures. USGS map by M. Patrick.

The lake is now perched about 1 meter (3.3 feet) above its narrow edges as measured Sunday morning, January 3; overflows onto the narrow edge slowly elevated a low wall around the lake similar to the wall around an above-ground swimming pool.

The main island of cooler, solidified lava floating in the lava lake continued settling, mostly rotating counter-clockwise, in front of the west lava source filling the lake, while the 11 smaller islands moved a bit but remained in the east end of the lake.

The main island measured about 250 m (820 feet) in length, 135 m (440 feet) in width, and about 3 ha (7 acres) in area based on the December 30 thermal map.

Measurements Friday afternoon (HST, January 1) showed that the island surface was about 6 m (20 feet) above the lake surface.

Yesterday afternoon, (HST, January 4), the island was measured as 1 – 2 m (1 – 2 yards) higher above the lake surface.

Hazard analysis


High levels of volcanic gas, rockfalls, explosions, and volcanic glass particles are the primary hazards of concern regarding this new activity at Kīlauea’s summit.

Large amounts of volcanic gas—primarily water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and sulfur dioxide (SO2)—are continuously released during eruptions of Kīlauea Volcano.

As SO2 is released from the summit during this new eruption, it will react in the atmosphere with oxygen, sunlight, moisture, and other gases and particles, and within hours to days, convert to fine particles.

The particles scatter sunlight and cause the visible haze that has been observed downwind of Kīlauea, known as vog (volcanic smog), during previous summit eruptions.

Vog creates the potential for airborne health hazards to residents and visitors, damages agricultural crops and other plants, and affects livestock operations.

Rockfalls and minor explosions, such as the ones that occurred during the 2008-18 lava lake eruption at Kīlauea summit, may occur suddenly and without warning.

This underscores the extremely hazardous nature of Kīlauea caldera rim surrounding Halemaʻumaʻu crater, an area that has been closed to the public since late 2007. 

Pele's hair and other lightweight volcanic glass fragments from the lava fountains within Halemaʻumaʻu will fall downwind of the fissure vents and lava lake, dusting the ground within a few hundred meters (yards) of the vent.

High winds may waft lighter particles to greater distances. Residents are urged to minimize exposure to these volcanic particles, which can cause skin and eye irritation similar to volcanic ash.

Near-real time webcam views 

Active as of January 6, 2021

Halemaʻumaʻu, lava lake, and down-dropped block [KWcam]

From the west rim of the new summit collapse features

Kīlauea Caldera – East Wide Angle [KEcam]

From HVO Observation Tower

Halemaʻumaʻu – Wide Angle [KW2cam]

From HVO Observation Tower

Kīlauea Caldera [KIcam]

From HVO Observation Tower

Halemaʻumaʻu and lava lake – thermal image [F1cam]

From the west rim of the new summit collapse features

Halemaʻumaʻu Overlook Vent – [K2cam]

From HVO Observation Tower

Kīlauea Summit from Mauna Loa Strip Road [KPcam]

View from Mauna Loa Strip Road looking at the Kīlauea summit to document volcanic eruption plumes.

View from Mauna Loa Strip Road looking at the Kīlauea summit to document volcanic eruption plumes.

Featured image credit: USGS/HVO

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