Kilauea –The Stunning Eruption that Changed the Science of Volcanoes

Kilauea Volcano


Kilauea, the world’s longest continuously erupting volcano, yielded extraordinary new data collected during an epic, explosive summer –an unprecedented opportunity to monitor an ongoing, accessible eruption that changed the science about how volcanoes behave.

“It was hugely significant,” says Jessica Larsen, a petrologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and “a departure from what Kilauea had been doing for more than 35 years.”



In their paper published in the journal Science, the researchers describe the sequence of events that transpired and what set them apart from other volcanic eruptions. The researchers discovered that the caldera did not collapse in a way that was expected, reports Science.

First, it deflated by approximately 500 meters as shown in the stunning Science News video above. Second, it happened incrementally for a total of 62 times. They were also surprised to find that groundwater did not play much of a role in the explosions that resulted as the caldera collapsed—instead, they were caused by piston-type pressure resulting from each deflation.

The researchers were also surprised to find that life returned to parts of the sea impacted by the sudden introduction of molten lava in just 100 days—oxidizing microbes showed up to take advantage of the newly deposited lava flows. They also found evidence of hydrothermal activity in the same areas. Both were believed to take longer to get their start after an eruption.


Kilauea Plumes

Although Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983, reports NASA’s Earth Observatory, the eruption took a dangerous turn on May 3, 2018, when several new fissure eruptions emerged in a residential neighborhood. As the fissures opened up, white plumes of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide gas poured out. MISR (Multi-angle Imaging Spectroradiometer) does not measure these gases directly; it does measure sulfate aerosols, the particles that form as sulfur dioxide reacts with sunlight and substances in the atmosphere to produce a visible haze called vog. Since both sulfur dioxide and sulfates are heavier than air, sulfur-rich volcanic plumes tend to sink as they disperse.

The images above show MISR’s sensor on NASA’s Terra satellite observations of the height of the plume on May 6, 2018. The top map represents the sulfur-rich plume represented in three dimensions as it moved downwind of the active fissures in Leilani Estates.

Although the volcano has gone quiet, researchers will continue to study monitors, particularly those posted along Kilauea’s Lower East Rift Zone, looking for evidence of new activity. They will also be keeping a close eye on Mauna Loa—the other major volcano on Hawaii’s big island, which has a history of activity when Kilauea goes quiet.

The Daily Galaxy via Science and Science News

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