Volcano Watch: Kilauea’s 1952 summit eruption ended a long period of inactivity

  • Spatter conelets & small lava lake- from SE rim.

On June 27, 1952, an eruption started at the summit of Kilauea Volcano, ending a period of quiescence that had lasted nearly 18 years.

During the nearly two decades of quiet on Kilauea following a summit eruption in 1934, there were several periods of increased earthquake activity and deformation beneath the summit. However, none of these phases of unrest resulted in an eruption.

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Early in April 1952, a series of earthquakes began along Kilauea’s East Rift Zone and beneath the summit. The earthquakes, accompanied by summit inflation, persisted through May and June.

At approximately 11:40 p.m. June 27, an eruption commenced at the summit. A loud roaring and bright glow emanating from Halema‘uma‘u Crater alerted residents and staff in proximity to Kilauea Caldera of the new eruption.

Within minutes of the eruption onset, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) staff were on their way to the office located on Uekahuna bluff. From HVO, a fountain erupting on the southwestern edge of the Halema‘uma‘u Crater floor was visibly over-topping the crater rim, nearly 800 feet higher. The fountain quickly waned and by 11:55 p.m. was no longer visible from the bluff.

HVO staff reached the Halema‘uma‘u Overlook 30 minutes after the eruption began. A 0.5-mile-long fissure crossed the entire floor of Halema’uma’u crater, and pooled lava had completely covered the crater floor.

The lake of lava had plates of cooled crust on its surface separated by cracks that provided views of the incandescent molten lava below — much like the smaller 2008 – 2018 lava lake within the Halema‘uma‘u “Overlook crater.” The fountaining lava created waves over the surface of the lake that emanated outward from the fissure to the crater walls.

Observers also noted seeing occasional whirlwinds on the lake surface that threw pieces of crust, up to a yard across, several meters into the air. This same phenomenon was observed in 2018 over the fissure 8 lava channel.

After the initial hours of the eruption, the lava fountains began to subside. After a little more than four hours, only the northeastern quarter of the fissure was active, and observers thought that the eruption could be ending. Shortly after, however, the southwestern end of the fissure reactivated with low bubbling fountains, and by that time Halema‘uma‘u Crater was estimated to have been filled with a lake of lava approximately 50 feet deep.

During the first two weeks of the eruption, small lava fountains continued to pop up along the surface of the lava lake.

By July 11 the active length of the fissure had shortened to approximately 400 feet. Two main fountains persisted and began to build a large cinder and spatter cone within the lava lake. Gaps within the cone wall allowed lava to spill out and feed the surrounding lava lake, which had shrunk from a peak of 100 acres on June 28 to about 34 acres by early August. The lava lake within Halema‘uma‘u Crater in early 2018 paled in comparison, at approximately 10.4 acres.

By the end of August, most of the erupted lava was contained within the large cone, where two active vents were building smaller spatter cones. Between the two spatter cones, there was a small lava pond that had an average diameter of about 100 feet.

This continued — with occasional lava flows on the floor of Halema‘uma‘u Crater — for the next few months, until the eruption ended after 136 days on Nov. 10.

Approximately 64,000,000 cubic yards of erupted lava was confined within Halema‘uma‘u Crater. The eruption filled the crater with 310 feet of new lava — raising the floor from 770 feet to 460 feet below the rim. For comparison, the Halema‘uma‘u Crater floor prior to the 2018 summit collapse was approximately 260 feet below the rim.

After nearly two decades of quiet on Kilauea Volcano, the 1952 eruption ended the longest eruptive pause on Kilauea in (at least) the past 200 years.

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Volcano Activity Updates

Kilauea Volcano is not erupting. Its USGS Volcano Alert level remains at NORMAL (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/vhp/about_alerts.html). Kilauea updates are issued monthly.

Kilauea monitoring data for the past month show variable but typical rates of seismicity and ground deformation, low rates of sulfur dioxide emissions, and only minor geologic changes since the end of eruptive activity in September 2018. The water lake at the bottom of Halema‘uma‘u continues to slowly expand and deepen. For the most current information on the lake, see https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/kilauea/summit_water_resources.html

Mauna Loa is not erupting and remains at Volcano Alert Level ADVISORY. This alert level does not mean that an eruption is imminent or that progression to eruption from current level of unrest is certain. Mauna Loa updates are issued weekly.

This past week, about 107 small-magnitude earthquakes were recorded beneath the upper-elevations of Mauna Loa; most of these occurred at shallow depths of less than 5 miles. GPS measurements show long-term slowly increasing summit inflation, consistent with magma supply to the volcano’s shallow storage system. Gas concentrations and fumarole temperatures as measured at both Sulphur Cone and the summit remain stable. Webcams show no changes to the landscape. For more information on current monitoring of Mauna Loa Volcano, see: https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/mauna_loa/monitoring_summary.html.

There were three events with three or more felt reports in the Hawaiian Islands during the past week: a magnitude-3.4 earthquake 4 miles northeast of Pahala on June 10 at 5:57 p.m.; a magnitude-3.2 earthquake 3 miles north-northwest of Pahala on June 10 at 5:05 p.m. HST; and a magnitude-2.8 earthquake 4 miles east of Pahala on June 9 at 10:59 a.m.

Visit https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/ for past Volcano Watch articles,for past Volcano Watch articles, Kilauea and Mauna Loa updates, volcano photos, maps, recent earthquake info, and more. Email questions to askHVO@usgs.gov.

Volcano Watch is a weekly article and activity update written by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and affiliates.

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Visit https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/ for past Volcano Watch articles,for past Volcano Watch articles, Kilauea and Mauna Loa updates, volcano photos, maps, recent earthquake info, and more. Email questions to askHVO@usgs.gov.

Volcano Watch is a weekly article and activity update written by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and affiliates.

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