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Kilauea lava lake re-emerges 12 September 2008

Posted by admin in activity reports, Hawaii, Kilauea, United States, volcano culture.
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Catching up with a story from last week, the USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory announced on 5 September that a ‘sloshing’ lava lake had been observed within Halemaumau vent at Kilauea. Erik Klemetti has all the relevant information and links over at Eruptions; as he says, lava lakes are fairly rare and transitory phenomena, so this is an exciting and interesting development.

In some ways this is a return to form for Kilauea, which was celebrated in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for the spectacular lava lake which occupied Halemaumau crater until it vanished during the eruption of 1924. In an article of 1915 the geologist Sidney Powers of the Hawaii Volcano Observatory noted that within the crater:

… a molten lava lake is almost continuously active … The size of the inner crater and of the lake within varies with the phases of activity, but in 1915 the crater has been about 1,200 feet in diameter, and the lake within, at a depth of 365 feet or more, from 400 to 500 feet long, and 100 to 180 feet wide … The lava lake has a temperature of 1000° C. (1832° F.), and consequently a thin skin of frozen lava is maintained over the yellow-red liquid. The skin is broken by fountains which break to a height of from 10 to 40 feet; and by the currents which constantly provide a streaming of the lava and of the crusts; and by splashing caves at the margins of the lake.

(Sidney Powers, ‘Hawaii’s great volcanoes and the study of them’, Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, vol. 47, no. 8 (1915), pp. 577-8.)

This dramatic and beautiful lava lake was a favourite subject of many artists (see below) and was celebrated in Tennyson’s 1892 poem ‘Kapiolani’:

Long as the lava-light
Glares from the lava-lake
Dazing the starlight,
Long as the silvery vapour in daylight
Over the mountain
Floats, will the glory of Kapiolani be mingled with either on Hawa-i-ee.

September 2008 sees the lava-light once more glaring from the lava-lake after an absence of more than eighty years. It will be interesting to see for how long it dazes the starlight this time.

Ernest William Christmas, 'Kilauea Crater' (c.1916)
Ernest William Christmas (1863-1918), ‘Kilauea Crater’ (c.1916) [public domain image: source].

For all our Kilauea coverage: Kilauea « The Volcanism Blog.

Global Volcanism Program: Kilauea – summary information for Kilauea (1302-01-)
USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory – main page for the HVO
HVO Kilauea Status Page – the latest activity reports for Kilauea

The Volcanism Blog