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