It’s Alive!

Credit: USGS

Kilauea, the youngest, most active volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, loves the camera.

Kilauea is between 300,000 to 600,000 years old. It is one of five volcanoes that make up the Big Island of Hawaii, which is the youngest island of the Hawaiian archipelago.

The “baby” volcano has been continuously erupting in some fashion since 1983. Activity has included surface eruptions, gas venting, and lava ponds. Recently, geologists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) caught some exciting footage of bouncing, splattering lava pond activity at one of the volcano’s craters, Puʻu ʻŌʻō.

The full video, taken on January 24, 2014, can be found here. I split up the exciting bits into two gifs (shown below).


Active lava lake in Hawaii. Credit: USGS

Active lava lake in Hawaii. Credit: USGS

Credit: USGS

Credit: USGS

So what exactly is happening at Puʻu ʻŌʻō’s lava pond? Geologists call this activity “gas pistoning”—the release of gas that has been building up in the pond. The process starts with bubbling (gif 1), followed by intense splattering (gif 2). After the gas is released, signaled by the quieting down of the lava, pond levels sometimes drop dramatically.

Kilauea actually has two active land ponds. One is at the main, central crater, Halema`uma`u; the other is called Puʻu ʻŌʻō. While volcano visitors can steal a glance of Halema`uma`u crater and it’s fluctuating lava pond from a busy observation spot in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Puʻu ʻŌʻō is closed off to the general public. Gas pistoning frequently occurs at both lava ponds.

Zahra Hirji is a volcano enthusiast. She used to be a Kilauea geology intern at HVO. Follow her @zhirji28.

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