Watching the Halema`uma`u Crater

The collapse pit within the Halema`uma`u Crater at Kilauea taken January 7, 2010. Image courtesy of the USGS/HVO.

Eruptions reader Boris Behncke pointed out that things are afoot in the Halema`uma`u Crater at Kilauea. To steal his description: " the lava lake returned triumphantly to the active pit last night, and now it is filling virtually the entire field of the
Halema'uma'u Overlook webcam."
Sure enough, checking out the webcam this morning, the field of view is dominated by a lava lake - albeit somewhat crusted over by hardened basalt lava. You can compare the current image with one from a similar vantage point taken ~1 week ago and see how much more lava seems to be filling the crater. You can also see that since 1/13, there has been inflation at Kilauea, which might explain some of this new lava arriving in the crater.

HVO's latest update (from 1/14/2010) for the summit region:

A churning, spattering lava surface was visible via webcam rising and falling within an opening in the bottom of a 200 m-deep pit inset within the floor of Halema`uma`u Crater; the lava surface, at the peak of the filling cycle, rose slowly so that by this morning, it was above the rim of the opening in the bottom of the deep pit, etc.. Strong glow was visible from the Jaggar Museum Overlook.

This morning, the summit vent gas plume is rising at least 600 m (2,000 ft) before moving to the north. The most recent sulfur dioxide emission rate measurement was 700 tonnes/day on January 12, 2010, significantly above the 2003-2007 average of 140 tonnes/day; new measurements must await the return of moderate trade winds. Very small amounts of mostly ash-sized tephra continue to be carried out by ascending gases; this morning's collection again contained mostly fresh spatter bits.

The summit tiltmeter network continued to record DI inflation already exceeding the amount of DI deflation and still increasing. The GPS network, which is less sensitive than the tiltmeter network, recorded about 1 cm of contraction over the last 3 months and switched to extension and contraction mimicking the tilt in early January; the summit is currently extending. Seismic tremor levels remained elevated (as they have been since late 2007). The number of RB2S2BL earthquakes remained within background values. Nox earthquakes beneath Kilauea were strong enough to be located.

So, it seems that Kilauea is ramping up some, in terms of sulfur dioxide emissions, inflation and lava supply to the caldera. And, of course, the best part here is that you can watch most of this happen in realtime, between the monitoring data posted by HVO, the webcams around the park and the updates. It is like you're there, minus the fact you have 6" of snow outside your window.

More like this

Only 6" Erik? We had 14"! But, where you are does get more than we do. That snow fall was rare.

Anyway, I checked the web cam last night and WOW! I figure it could fountain. Does anybody know if that is a possibility? I am not that saavy on what can get a crater like Halema`uma`u to fountain and I just have a feeling it might. It would be really neat if it did fountain as long as it doesn't hurt anything. Aside from that, it is getting interesting and the flow into the crater floor is awesome if the cam shows it. I am hoping they will show more pictures and also videos.

Diane, I would not exclude some more vigorous activity - it depends on a new batch of quite gas (CO2 and/or water) rich magma rising to the surface rapidly. But on the other hand, a fountain might quite easily destroy the web cam and thus take away the joy of looking at it from us.
Historically, fountains within Halema'uma'u have been quite small, except for those seen during the initial stages of new outbreaks such as 1952 and 1954. You can download the USGS reports about those eruptions at

Looking at the Halema`uma`u paste, I don't remember seeing such clear images of the lava surface in daytime before, in the few months I've been following the website closely.

To me it suggests that either there is remarkably little smoke being emitted, or that the lava surface is much further up the tube than I am used to seeing, or both. Unless they've changed how the telemetry works.

I mentioned a week or two ago that the tilt patterns had suddenly changed.

The changes in tilt are becoming more extreme, and longer time periods continue before changing. And they are building.

If this trend continues then perhaps there will be lava fountains, not in this cycle, probably not the next, but the one after or the one after that.

But 'if the trend continues' is a big 'if'.

Hope I;m making sense - approaching bottom of a bottle of wine:)

David B

I think they have the infrared cam on so we can see what is going on in the crater. It sure is something. Anyway, David, you did make some sense. LOL

We will see what happens. I suspect it will fluxuate a lot. I want them to post more pics and videos. They will when they get something they think is really good to see.

In the mean time, there are other volcanoes out there that may give us a show as well.

Are you talking about a 10m dome fountain, or one of those 1959-1969-1983 600m whoppers?

Sure, a minor fountain is more likely, but I don't think either is in the cards unless something drastic happens with the magma supply from the hotspot or Kilauea's plumbing breaks down.

Major oversupplies of magma have taken place at Kilauea before, with not much happening in terms of the eruption style changing--the lava tubes from Puu Oo overflowed and that's about it. With an open vent at Haleumaumau, that might mean an overflow from the current vent onto the floor, but I'd surprised to see fountaining.

And the lava lake is 120m below the floor of Haleumaumau--that's a lot of force needed to overflow when there's an open vent lower than that on the ERZ.

What could cause fountaining at Kilauea's summit? 1. A 1954 or 1975-type earthquake which would be hard to predict, or 2. A breakdown in the efficient delivery duct to the ERZ, which is somewhat more likely, though not guaranteed (how many times has the end of the Puu Oo eruption been predicted?) David B. *did* bring up the point that the DI events are becoming more frequent, so *maybe* a repeat of the 1974 summit eruptions is in the offing.

Boris, even if there was some fountaining, there is a web cam at the center across the caldera and it is about a mile from the vent. So it could be seen from there.

Thanks for the info about fountaining. I forgot about the CO2/H2O connection. And the depth of the crater does make it less plausible. I just remember Kilauea Iki fountaining years ago and that was quite a show.

Is there anything else going on? I wish Etna would start the Strombolian eruptions it did in the mid '90s. That was cool. And it was at that time, Boris, that I found your site. :-)

Halema`uma`u is the only active vent of a volcano I have ever seen. As such it would be a thrill to see it overflow on to the floor of the crater
The smell of the so2 when the wind shifted we great and gross at the same time. The size is something that is not captured on a web cam. Everything is Huge.

By Dasnowskier (not verified) on 16 Jan 2010 #permalink

I have been at Kilauea and seen the crater in the caldera. It is rather huge and the Halema`uma`u crater is something that has recently opened up. It started out as a gas vent and got bigger and bigger if I remember right. It keeps collapsing into itself and getting deeper. It will be interesting to see what happens. I wish I could be there to see what is going on. Nothing was happening when I was there. All the activity started three years later. I don't think I want to smell the gases. I have been near geysers that had enough stink. LOL There is a fumerol by the road in Lassen Park that give visitors a sense of the "wonderful" aroma from volcanic gases. And some of those gases are deadly.

I know it can be a real neat experience to see something like Kilauea and a crater fuming in the crater.

Any chance it will erupt coal and kill off the dinosaurs?

By MadScientist (not verified) on 17 Jan 2010 #permalink

Maybe olivine and peridot.

Oh nice! The lava is visible again on the Halemaʻumaʻu Overlook Vent webcam.