Hawaii’s Kilauea, One of the World’s Most Active Volcanoes, Erupts Again

The short-lived eruption occurred in an area of the volcano that had not erupted since December 1974

An aerial image of Kīlauea volcano erupting, June 3, 2024.
An aerial image of Kilauea volcano erupting, June 3, 2024. USGS

Kilauea, a shield volcano located on Hawaii’s Big Island and one of Earth’s most active, erupted again early on Monday morning, albeit timidly.

Beginning just after midnight and ending some 12 hours later, the eruption occurred inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, about 2.5 miles southwest of the Kilauea caldera. While Kilauea has recently erupted—three times last year alone—this particular area had been quiet for nearly five decades, since it last spewed lava for six hours in December 1974.

Because of the region’s potential for rockfalls and other hazards, public access near the caldera has been limited since 2008. As for Monday’s eruption, “there are really no threats to any communities,” Katie Mulliken, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, tells USA Today’s Christopher Cann.

Kīlauea volcano erupts in the early morning of June 3, 2024.
Kilauea erupts in the early morning hours of June 3, 2024. USGS

On webcam footage, the observatory first noted glowing lava erupting from fissures, spewing tens of feet into the air. Lava flows had become “sluggish” around 11:00 a.m. local time, and by just after noon, they had stopped altogether.

“People just need to realize this is in one of the safest places it could have happened,” Mitch Roth, the Big Island mayor, tells the Associated Press. “Absolutely no property in danger.”

Monday’s eruption has proven to be significantly less destructive and violent in comparison to some of Kilauea’s recent activity. In 2018, months of ongoing earthquakes and lava flows destroyed more than 700 homes over several months, a period of activity that may have been triggered by heavy rainfall and groundwater pressure.

“Rainfall-induced pressure changes like this could be a trigger, especially in cases where the system is already critically stressed or primed,” volcanologist Jamie Farquharson told Smithsonian magazine’s Brian Handwerk in 2020. “Then, even a very small stress change could be enough to initiate new fracturing, creating a new pathway for magma to get to the surface.”

But in the years since 2018’s eruption, Kilauea’s behavior has changed.

“From 1983 to 2018, all of the activity came from two vents,” Michael Poland, a geophysicist with USGS, tells the New York Times Victor Mather. “Since 2018, it has gone away from a period of steady eruptions. Now it has discrete, usually shortish eruptions happening in several different places. Now we’re getting eruptions happening in places we haven’t seen in 50 years.”

During the eight hours leading up to Monday’s eruption, USGS recorded about 250 earthquakes beneath Kilauea’s summit, the largest of which was a magnitude-4.1 quake. While it continues to be monitored, seismic activity has significantly decreased since the first fissures opened.

Geologists collect samples on the upper Southwest Rift Zone of Kīlauea volcano, June 3, 2024.
Geologists collect samples on the upper Southwest Rift Zone of Kilauea volcano on June 3, 2024. USGS

For local communities, air quality may be the most pressing concern. At the height of Monday’s eruption, sulfur dioxide was emitted at a rate of 15,000 metric tons per day, though that slowed to 12,000 metric tons per day and “likely decreased further” in the afternoon, according to the USGS.

During eruptions, volcanic gas—which includes sulfur dioxide—is released and reacts with Earth’s atmosphere to create volcanic smog, or “vog.”

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

“It’s more of an irritant,” Poland tells the New York Times. “If people have sensitive breathing or respiratory issues, they may find it more difficult to breathe.”

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