Kilauea volcano is often regarded as one of the most active volcanoes in the Hawaiian islands. Owing to its high-intensity status of activity, this volcano has been a topic of interest for volcanologists globally. The following story tells you more.
Kīlauea is the Hawaiian name for spewing, possibly referring to the lava flow that is caused as a result of the volcano's eruption.
Kilauea is a shield volcano that was initially believed to be a part of Mauna Loa and was never considered to be an independent volcano. Extensive research later proved that Kilauea has its unique geological setting and a magma-plumbing system. Thus, its location coordinates were revised by the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Quick Facts about Kilauea
Location - 19.425 N 155.292 W
Elevation Above Sea Level - 1,277 m (4,190 ft)
Area - 1,430 km2 (552 mi2 - 13.7% of Hawaii)
Most Recent Eruption - Recurrent since January 3, 1983
The exact year of formation of Kilauea volcano is not known. Its speculated age is thought to fall somewhere between 300,000-600,000 years, where studies state that it has been active ever since its formation.
Kilauea is the southeastern volcano located on the Big Island of Hawaii, appearing on the southeastern flank of Mauna Loa. The slopes of the volcano melange with those of Mauna Loa in the western and northern parts.
Kilauea was formed when the Pacific tectonic plate traveled over the Hawaiian hotspot, present within the Earth's mantle. Hawaii has five sub-aerial volcanoes in total, of which Kilauea is believed to be the youngest.
Before emerging from the water, Kilauea volcano was a submarine volcano erupting matter of alkali basalt in subsurface episodes. Ever since its sub-aerial exposure, the volcano has been continuously active with repeated effusive, and sometimes explosive, eruptions till date.
Out of the numerous times Kilauea has erupted, the incident as of January 3, 1983 on the east rift zone, is by far the longest recorded. The vent of the volcano formed explosive lava fountains that eventually formed the Puʻu ʻŌʻō cone, with the lava flows traveling down the volcano's slope.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has constantly monitored this eruption and reported that it has produced 1 cu mi of lava and buried 48 sq mi of land under it (as of January 2011).
With little or no topographical dominance, this volcano has a significantly large caldera. The caldera is nearly 2 miles wide and was formed as the result of a breakdown of the volcano's summit.
Whether the caldera was always present on the volcano or is an effect of recent activity, is a topic of debate among scientists even today. The caldera contains a prominent crater named Halemaʻumaʻu crater. This crater is around 900 m wide and 85 m deep, and is one of the most active areas on the volcano.
Kilauea has two rift zones - one stretching approx. 78 miles towards the east, and the other 22 miles towards the southwest. Over the years, the episodes of eruptions in the southwest and east rift zones, have led to the formation of ridges in an outward fashion from the summit. The amount of eruptions taking place are more in the rift zones than in the summit region.
The most prominent feature of the Kilauea volcano is the eastern rift zone with its upper section undergoing eruption activity till date. The rift zone is almost entirely covered with lava flows, as a result of eruptions in the past 400 years.
The crest of the rift is 2-4 km wide and the vents are present on various segments of the rift zone, some extending up to 30 km. One of the many pit craters of the east rift zone is Makaopuhi, having a depth of almost 300 m.
The southwestern rift zone has not been involved in any recent activity ever since its last episode back in 1974. The rift zone is geologically not well-developed with a lesser number of pit craters and ridge lines.
A large pit crater formation near the summit caldera of Kilauea, is called Kilauea Iki. This crater has produced one of the most destructive episodes in the year 1959, which led to the formation of a new lava shield, called Pu'u Pua'i. The eruption was marked by extensive lava flows and fountains reaching up to 60-80 m in height.
Today, Kilauea volcano forms a part of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which has a rich ecosystem that is endemic to the island. Being an extremely isolated landmass, the island is safeguarded from human encroachment.
But the eruptive nature of the volcano continues to be a huge threat to the ecosystem. Nonetheless, the park attracts millions of visitors each year and has been designated as a 'World Heritage Site', since 1987.