New ‘lava breakout’ possible on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone

  • As of this afternoon (May 1), the eruption at the summit of Kīlauea has apparently not been affected by the collapse at Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō or intrusion of magma along the volcano's Lower East Rift Zone. (HVO/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • The collapse of the Pu‘u ‘O‘o crater floor Monday afternoon produced a large amount of red ash that was deposited around Pu‘u ‘O‘o, as well as blown farther downwind, with a thin dusting of ash reaching uprift as far as Mauna Ulu. (HVO/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Within hours of the Pu‘u ‘O‘o crater floor collapse Monday afternoon, HVO's monitoring instruments recorded increased seismicity and ground deformation along Kilauea Volcano's East Rift Zone (ERZ) that continued through the night into Tuesday. These signals indicated an intrusion of magma from the Middle ERZ toward the Lower ERZ, extending from Pu‘u ‘O‘o to at least Highway 130. This illustration shows the approximate area of Kilauea's East Rift Zone, which, in reality, is not defined by distinct lines. (HVO/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • A telephoto view of a small lava flow (lighter in color) and spatter (blue-gray) that were erupted from a section of the new 0.6-mile-long crack found on the west (uprift) side of Pu‘u ‘O‘o. (HVO/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • A new 0.6-mile-long crack was found on the west (uprift) side of Pu‘u ‘O‘o during HVO's overflight Tuesday. The cracking appeared to be nearly continuous en echelon structures that were heavily steaming. A small amount of lava was apparently erupted from the crack, based on the presence of nearby tiny pads of lava and spatter, but it was no longer active when HVO geologists saw it during the overflight. (HVO/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Mayor Harry Kim and Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno talk Tuesday morning at the county Civil Defense office.

  • Ash covers the the lens of a web camera positioned on the north rim of Puʻu ʻOʻo, looking into the crater, on Tuesday morning. (HVO/Special to West Hawaii Today)

HILO — An intrusion of magma into Kilauea’s East Rift Zone shook the ground under lower Puna residents’ feet Tuesday and stirred worries about a new volcanic vent opening near populated areas.

The shallow and mostly minor quakes progressed downrift from the Pu‘u ‘O‘o cone, which was spewing ash following the collapse of its crater floor Monday, to Highway 130, about 10 miles away. Eight were 3-magnitude or greater, with the largest registering a 4.2-magnitude off the southern coast.

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The seismic activity appeared to have leveled off later in the day, but geologists and Hawaii County officials were keeping a close watch. As precautions, the county closed the Kalapana lava viewing area to visitors and vendors Tuesday, and Civil Defense planned to keep at least one staff person at the office in Hilo around the clock.

“What we don’t know is if the intrusive event is over, is done, and all that’s going to happen or if it’s just paused and might tick back up,” said Janet Babb, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory spokeswoman. “An intrusion does not always lead to an eruption,” she added, “but intrusions down the lower East Rift Zone have led to magma (reaching the surface) and led to eruptions.”

Babb gave the 1960 eruption that destroyed the village of Kapoho as an example.

The shaking wasn’t the only thing getting geologists’ attention.

Babb said sensors 7.5 and 10 miles downrift of Pu‘u ‘O‘o detected ground deformation, another sign of magma moving underneath. She said magma intruded at least as far downrift as Highway 130.

Additional sensors were placed Tuesday to track changes. More will be deployed Wednesday.

A new vent closer to populated areas could displace or threaten many residents, depending on the path of the flow.

During the 2014 lava flow crisis, the county established a coastal emergency route to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on top of the former Chain of Craters Road, which had been covered by numerous lava flows. Portions of that road has since been reclaimed by the “61g” flow from Pu‘u ‘O‘o.

Talmadge Magno, county Civil Defense administrator, said the county wasn’t making plans to clear another path.

“With the way this activity is, you don’t know if it’s going to come back down on Chain of Craters Road,” he said.

Magno said Civil Defense is talking with first responders and other agencies to ensure their plans are ready. He said the county is working closely with HVO and “watching their instruments.”

Geologists took multiple flights near Pu‘u ‘O‘o on Tuesday, but poor weather conditions and ash from the cone made it hard to get a good look, Babb said.

Red ash was seen blanketing the ground nearby.

Pressure under the cone began building in mid-March, leading geologists to estimate that a new vent might open there.

The magma then drained away and pushed further into the rift zone, causing the crater floor to collapse Monday. Multiple collapses have occurred during the 35-year-old eruption, including one in 2011.

Babb said the eruption at Kilauea’s summit appeared not to be affected and its lava lake in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park remained high.

Mark Hinshaw, of Kalapana Seaview, said he wasn’t worrying about the change in volcanic activity yet.

It’s part of life for lower Puna residents, as highlighted by the “June 27th” lava flow that threatened Pahoa nearly four years ago, he noted.

“We just got to get used to it,” Hinshaw said. “If it happens, it happens.”

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Current alerts can be viewed at https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/kilauea/status.html or www.hawaiicounty.gov/civil-defense.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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