Three months and countless Olympic swimming pools of lava later, Kilauea seems to have pressed the pause button on its fiery eruption. But it’s too soon to tell if the Hawaiian volcano has chilled out for good.
Over the weekend, scientists with the US Geological Survey noted a significant slowdown in the lava coming out of Fissure 8, the most active of the two dozen fissures that have, since May, oozed lava in Kilauea’s Lower East Rift Zone.
By the end of an aerial survey Sunday morning local time, USGS volcanologist Wendy Stovall told us that Fissure 8's spillway — the area just outside the lava cone that sends molten rock pouring into a channel leading to the ocean — had run dry.
Another overflight on Monday morning revealed that Fissure 8's fresh lava was completely contained within a lake inside the cone. Lava within the lake, spillway and downstream channel have also begun to crust over. None of the other fissures are active at this time.
“We’re considering this a pause,” Stovall told us.
Stovall said it’s common for Hawaiian eruptions to go through episodic starts and stops, especially near the end of their life. She added that high lava fountaining, such as was seen in Fissure 8 back in June and July, could happen again. “It can come on suddenly,” she said.
That said, other parts of the volcano’s plumbing have also gone quiet. At the same time that Fissure 8 was shutting off, seismic activity and deformation at the volcano’s summit started to flatten out, according to Stovall. The key now will be monitoring all of the instruments researchers have placed at the summit crater and in the Lower East Rift Zone for signs of new stirrings.
The good news is that since the eruption began, Kilauea has become pretty decked out with monitoring equipment. Per Stovall, three additional seismometers have been placed in the Lower East Rift Zone to more precisely pinpoint where rumbles in the ground are coming from. If scientists see an uptick in seismic activity, that might indicate fresh magma moving into the system.
Stovall said her team is considering any of the 24 fissures as potential sites for new flare-ups. As for how they’ll know when things are truly over?
“We haven’t made a decision on when we decide how it’s over,” she said.