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Kīlauea ( in English, in Hawaiian) is an active volcano in the Hawaiian Islands, one of five shield volcanoes that together form the Island of Hawai imarker. In Hawaiian, the word kīlauea means "spewing" or "much spreading", in reference to the mountain's frequent outpouring of lava. Lava has been issuing continuously at Pu u Ō ōmarker since January 1983. In 1998 Kīlauea was said to be the most active volcano on the Earth, an invaluable resource for volcanologists, and was said to be the planet's most visited active volcano. The volume of erupted material could pave a road across the world 3 times. Lava less than 1000 years old covers 90% of Kilauea.

Kīlauea is the most recent of a series of volcanoes that have created the Hawai ian Archipelago, as the Pacific Plate has moved and is moving over the Hawai i hotspotmarker (see Lō ihi Seamountmarker). An eruption that started in 1983 is ongoing. These eruptions occur in the Pu u Ō ōmarker vent. Thirty-three eruptions have taken place since 1952 not including the current episode.

In local belief the volcano is the home of the Hawai ian goddess of volcanoes, Pele. Legend says that eruptions take place whenever the goddess is angry. These concepts are included in tribal chants practiced by residents of the region.


The Island of Hawai i is built from five separate shield volcanoes that erupted somewhat sequentially, one overlapping the other. These are (from oldest to youngest):

Kīlauea is located on Hawai i Island, Hawai i, in the United States. It lies against the southeast flank of much larger Mauna Loamarker volcano. Mauna Loa's massive size and elevation (13,677 feet or 4,169 m) is a stark contrast to Kīlauea, which rises only 4,091 feet (1,247 m) above sea level, and thus from the summit caldera appears as a broad shelf of uplands well beneath the long profile of occasionally snow-capped Mauna Loa, distant.Kīlauea is a very low, flat shield volcano — vastly different in profile from the high, sharply sloping peaks of stratovolcanoes like Mt.marker Fujimarker, Mount Hoodmarker, and Mount St. Helensmarker.

Approach from Hilo

From Hilomarker, the Hawaii Belt Roadmarker, State Route 11, heads south to Kea aumarker, then turns westward to begin the climb to the Kīlauea caldera. For some the road runs relatively straight, making a very gradual ascent. However, most of this climb is actually on the heavily vegetated, cloud forest flank of Mauna Loa. The crossing onto lava flows issued from Kīlauea is not until about west of Glenwood, from Hilo. The verdant, forested Mauna Loa flows are several thousand years old, whereas the lightly vegetated Kīlauea flows are only 350 to 500 years old.

Approach from Kona via Ka ū

Volcanic activity at Kilauea.

Driving south from Kailua-Konamarker on the west coast of Hawai i, Kīlauea is distant along the Hawaii Belt Roadmarker, Route 11, which passes through Ka ūmarker, the southernmost district of the island. After passing around the southern end of Mauna Loa's lengthy lower flank, the highway then turns northeast towards Kīlauea. The route through Ka ū is different from the verdant forests seen when coming from Hilo: The route from the south approaches Kīlauea through the Ka ū Desertmarker, on the volcano's leeward slope. Kīlauea's height of is sufficient to force most of the moisture out of the impinging northeasterly trade winds, leaving much of Ka ū in the rain shadow of the "low" mountain, creating a desert effect. The desert effect is also produced by the acid rain resulting from sulfur dioxide emitted by the volcano. This area is also the very active southwest rift zone of Kīlauea, a prolific ash producer. Winds redistribute the ash, causing dust storms and dunes barren of most vegetation.

As from the Hilo side, the long gradual climb from near sea level to the summit is actually all on the flank of Mauna Loa. Not until the Sulfur Bank scarp (the northwestern edge of Kīlauea Caldera), near the intersection of Crater Rim Drive in Hawai i Volcanoes National Park, does the road cross over onto Kīlauea. From near Punalu u at the coast to the caldera at the summit, the highway parallels the line of contact between the two volcanoes — always less than southeast of that line.

Kīlauea Caldera

Hawai i Volcanoes National Park encompasses a portion of Kīlauea, and the park visitor center is located near the margin of the summit caldera, overlooking a large pit crater called Halema uma umarker. The roughly circular caldera measures 3x5 km (or 6x6 km, including the outermost ring faults).

Eruptive activity


Eruption of Kīlauea in 1954
The volcano exhibits frequent eruptions, although written records stretch back only to 1820. In an earlier episode around 1790, a Kīlauea eruption killed a party of warriors and their families. These soldiers were part of the army controlled by Keōua Kuahu ula, the last chief on the island to resist Kamehameha I.

In 1825, Admiral Lord Byron, cousin of the famous poet, visited the volcano. His campsite, still known as "Byron's Ledge" is located at coordinates .

One of the most spectacular episodes of Kilauea lava fountaining occurred in 1959 during the Kilauea Ikimarker eruption. Lava sprayed nearly 580 meters (1900 feet) high.


Eruptions at Kīlauea occur primarily either from the summit caldera or along either of the lengthy East and Southwest rift zones that extend from the caldera and run approximately parallel to the coastline. In recent decades, eruptions have been continuous, with many of the lava flows reaching to the Pacific Oceanmarker shore. About 90% of the surface of Kīlauea is lava flows less than 1,100 years old; 70% of the surface is younger than 600 years. There were 45 eruptions of Kīlauea in the 20th century.

Mauna Ulu Eruption, 1969 - 1974

The Mauna Ulu eruption of Kīlauea began on May 24, 1969 and ended on July 22, 1974. At the time, Mauna Ulu was the longest flank eruption of any Hawaiian volcano in recorded history. The eruption created a new vent, covered massive amounts of land with lava, and added new land to the island.

The Mauna Ulu eruption first started as a fissure between two pit craters, Ālo imarker and Alae, where the Mauna Ulu shield would eventually form. Both pāhoehoe and a ā lava erupted from the volcano. Early on, fountains of lava burst out as much as 540 meters (1772 ft) high. In early 1973, an earthquake occurred that caused Kīlauea to stop erupting near the original Mauna Ulu site and instead erupt near the craters Pauahi and Hi iaka. However, the eruption site soon returned to normal.

Current vent eruption and lava flows

Lava explodes as it hits ocean waves
The current Kīlauea eruption began on January 3, 1983, along the East rift zone from the Pu u Ō ōmarker vent and also the Kūpa ianahā vent, and continues to produce lava flows that travel 11 to 12 km from these vents through tube networks that discharge into the sea to two sites, Wahaula and Kamokuna. This eruption has covered over 117 km² of land on the southern flank of Kīlauea and has built out into the sea 2 km² (230 hectares) of new land. Since 1983 more than 2.7 km³ of lava has been erupted, making the 1983-to-present eruption the largest historically known for Kīlauea. 189 structures have been destroyed. In the early to middle 1980s Kīlauea was known as "The Drive-By Volcano" because anyone could ride by and see the lava fountains — some as much as in the air — from their car.

Lava flows in 1987 buried much of the Royal Gardens Subdivision, which was near the boundary of Hawaii Volcanoes National Parkmarker. Real Estate Damages, written by real estate appraiser and crisis consultant Randall Bell, explains that "The volcano destroyed numerous homes and a newly constructed multimillion-dollar visitor center and museum near the Poupou-Kauka ancient villages...The lava flowed slowly, and the destruction occurred gradually over the span of months. Efforts to divert the lava flow with concrete ledges were entirely ineffective." Bell continues, "Housing in this area has always been inexpensive by Hawaiian standards, and a typical house with an ocean view in this area can sell for the price of a car. While some homes were spared by the lava flows, the area's infrastructure was destroyed. Some people still reside in these homes, but they have no water, electricity, gas, or telephone. Roads exist over portions of old lava flows. Lots in the subdivision sell for nominal amounts of approximately $500, although there is little chance of ever rebuilding on them."

The 1990 lava flows were notable for their destruction; the towns of Kalapanamarker and Kaimūmarker were totally destroyed, as were Kaimū Bay, Kalapana Black Sand Beach, and a large section of State Rte. 130, which now abruptly dead-ends at the lava flow.

While Kīlauea is currently known for its largely non-explosive eruptions, it has a darker side to it: It has had large explosive eruptions in the past. The most recent of such explosive eruptions occurred in 1924, when magma interacted with groundwater as the long-standing lava lake in Halema uma u Crater drained. Even larger ones have occurred, including one in 1790, which killed at least several dozen people. Eruption columns are inferred to have gone at least as high as 9 km (5.6 miles) and even up to 15–20 km (9–12 miles) in altitude — much higher than the cruising altitude of airliners.

Eruptions from Kīlauea also are known for creating vog, or volcanic smog, which affects many areas of the Hawaiian Islands, including O ahumarker and Honolulumarker whenever winds come out of the south or southeast.

Lava from Kīlauea destroyed three abandoned houses in the week of February 25, 2008 in a nearly deserted neighborhood. On the night of March 5, 2008, lava from the flows again reached the ocean off the Punamarker coast, creating a spectacular show of light and color. Hawai i County Civil Defense officials have set up a viewing center nearby for the public to observe the phenomenon. As of October 12, 2009, lava viewings continue at this site during the evening hours.

2008 summit crater explosion

Steam plume as Kīlauea red lava enters the ocean at three Waikupanaha and one Ki lava ocean entries.
Some surface lava is seen too.
The image was taken 04/16/08.
In the early morning hours of March 19, 2008, Halema uma u experienced its first explosive event since 1924 and the first eruption in the Kīlauea caldera since September 1982. A steam vent that had recently opened near the overlook area exploded, generating a magnitude 3.7 earthquake, and scattering rocks over a 75 acre area. A small amount of ash was also reported at a nearby community. The explosion debris covered part of Crater Rim Drive and damaged Halema uma u overlook. The explosion did not release any lava, which suggests to scientists that it was driven by hydrothermal or gas sources.

This explosion event followed an increased sulfur dioxide gas levels from the Halema uma u crater. The dangerous increase of sulfur dioxide gas has prompted closures of Crater Rim Drive between Kīlauea Military Camp south/southeast to Chain of Craters Road, Crater Rim Trail from Kīlauea Military Camp southsoutheast to Chain of Craters Road, and all trails leading to Halema uma u crater, including those from Byron Ledge, Iliahi (Sandalwood) Trail, and Ka ū Desert Trail.

Early in the morning of March 24, 2008, the white gas ejection changed to brown-gray ash, and lava particles were thrown from the vent, forming Pele's Hair, Pele's Tears, and lava spatters around the vent. This is the first time fresh lava has been erupted in the crater since 1982.


Kīlauea is considered to be the present home of Pele, the volcano goddess of ancient Hawaiian legend. Several special lava formations are named after her, including Pele's Tears (small droplets of lava that cool in the air and retain their teardrop shapes) and Pele's Hair (thin, brittle strands of volcanic glass that often form during the explosions that accompany a lava flow as it enters the ocean).

In Hawaiian mythology, Kīlauea is where most of the conflict between Pele and the rain god Kamapua a took place. Halema uma u, "House of the ama uma u fern", derives its name from the final struggle between the two gods: since it was the favorite residence of Pele, Kamapua a, hard-pressed by Pele's ability to make lava spout from the ground at will, covered it with the fronds of the fern. Choking from the smoke which could not escape anymore, Pele emerged. Realizing that each could threaten the other with destruction, the gods had to call their fight a draw and divided the island between them: Kamapua a got the windward northeastern side, and Pele got the drier Kona ("leeward") side. The rusty singed appearance of the young fronds of the ama uma u was said to be a product of the legendary struggle.

Kīlauea Visitor Center

The Kīlauea Visitor Center is located just inside the park entrance, and features exhibits about volcano, the plants and animals in the park, and the island's cultural history. A 20 minute movie about the park is available, and visitors can obtain information about the park and sign up for ranger-led activities. The center also features a gift shop.



  • Moore, R.B. and F.A. Trusdell. (2006). Geologic map of the middle east rift geothermal subzone of Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii [Geological Investigations Series I-2614]. Reston, VA: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.
  • Neal, C.A. and J.P. Lockwood. (2003). Geologic map of the summit region of Kīlauea Volcano, Hawaii [Geological Investigations Series I-2759]. Reston, VA: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.
  • Bryan, William Alanson (digitized in 2006). Natural history of Hawaii. University of Michigan: Hawaiian Gazette Company.

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