Kilauea Volcano Eruption 2020/21 – Pele Returns to the Big Island in Spectacular Fashion! Hawaii Volcano Update!

After 2018 many feared the Eruption of Kilauea was finally over after 35 Years of continuous eruption. The event Drained the Summit lava lake, which subsequently collapsed, filling with water and signifying the end of the 1983-2018 Kilauea eruption. One of Hawaii’s most spectacular attractions was asleep.

However, while 2020 has, on the whole, been terrible, Madame Pele had one final surprise for us and awoke on the 20th of December to reclaim the Summit of Kilauea and refill the Lava lake. Here is exactly what has been happening over the last few days as the Kilauea Volcano Eruption 2020 ends the year on a real high and carries on right into the New Year! …First a Recap of what happened in 2018…

Updated May 2021

Recap – 2018 Lower Puna Eruption.

In 2018, the Big Island was rocked by a spectacular Volcanic Eruption. The Volcano literally tore the ground apart and spewed lava into the ocean and drowned forestand and villages in molten rock. The Eruption Cost over $800million choked the Islands in volcanic pollutions and forced thousands to flee their homes, many unable to return. We wrote about this event at the time here.

It was however the most incredible display of raw natural power imaginable. 300ft Lava Fountains spewed rock from the earth’s heart, Rivers of molten rock rushed down the flanks of Kilauea towards the Ocean, and 875 Acres of new Island were created in a few months.

Animation of Kīlauea Lower East Rift Zone Fissures and Flows
Animation of Kīlauea Lower East Rift Zone Fissures and Flows by Phoenix7777 on CC4.0

It was a real Bitter-Sweet event. While un-undoubtedly spectacular, it destroyed so many homes and communities, cut off others, and pretty much decimated the Puna District of Hawaii. Only by sheer chance (and effective, organized evacuations) were there no fatalities, only a few injuries. It also marked the end of the 35 years of the continuous eruption of Kilauea.

The Halemaʻumaʻu Summit Crater, which had until now held a stunning Lava Lake, collapsed in on itself, transforming the landscape and potentially cutting off the Supply of lava from the Magma Chamber below. Slowly but surely the Crater began filling with water, forming a toxic hot brew of chemicals.

For some volcanologists, this spelled the end of the current eruption of Kilauea. While the Volcano was obviously not done, the appearance of a crater lake signified a prolonged dormant period. Quite probably never to erupt again in our lifetimes! Pele had gone to sleep.

While this may be a relief for those in the firing line of Pele’s creation, it meant we potentially had lost one of Hawaii’s most spectacular attractions.

December 2020 Eruption at Kilauea Summit!

Fortunately, the doubters were wrong. While even the most pessimistic of Volcanologists admitted they really had no idea when Pele Would awaken, most scientists were envisaging a prolonged sleep. Not so, as it turns out this was nothing more than a catnap!

Kilauea eruption 2020 NPS
Steam Cloud from the Lake Vaporizing – NPS

In early December 2020, an increase in seismic activity and inflation around the summit area began to tease that maybe Kilauea was stirring again. Then December 20th, 2020 the Volcano roared back into life.

Three Vents broke out in the walls of the Halama’uma’u Crater, pouring lava out into the Crater below. In just hours the new water lake was vaporized as plumes of steam rose out of the Crater. One of the Vents soon closed up but the Largest Vent, in the north of the crater continued to pour lava into the crater at an incredible rate creating a huge lava Lake.

As the lava continued to effuse out of the two vents the Level of the Lake continued to rise and rise, until December 26th when it reached the height of the Largest vent on the northern edge of the crater. Once the lava lake drowned the vent the flow appeared to stop, only for the activity to increase at the smaller western vent.

However this flow was not enough to sustain the height of the lake and a telltale dark rim began to form, a clear indication the level had dropped. Probably backfilling down the northern vent. The High Water (Lava) Mark was made the lava lake approximately 587ft dropping down to 577ft by Sunday the 27th December.

That is a staggering 5 billion gallons of Lava! The Lake would come around halfway up the side of the Empire State Building and could fill over 7,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. It is a staggering amount of lava to pump out in just a few days! As of the 28th December, 2020 things remaining stable, and a Status Quo has formed at the summit with the giant Lava lake

The Good news, for now, is the eruption is contained entirely within the Halema’uma’u Crater, to overflow the crater would take another 4-5x the amount of Lava to flow out of the vents, and the Halema’uma’u Crater is contained within the MUCH larger Kilauea Caldera. It would take many times more Lava gain to overflow the Main Caldera, meaning this incredible spectacle is safely contained inside the confines of the Kilauea Caldera.

What next for Kileuaea?

Volcanologists have spent Lifetimes working out how to predict Volcano’s and to be frank they are still pretty rubbish. Kilauea is still a violent and unpredictable beast, but one thing is clear, the large scale eruption in 2018 cleared a back-log of Lava pressure leading to a pause in Eruptions, but with the re-emergence of the Lava Lake, it is pretty clear there is still a whole lot more going on down there and we can expect more eruptions in the coming months/years. Where and how is impossible for us to predict but Pele is back and in a big way!

We do need a touch of context here though, this giant lava lake that has emerged in just a few days seems incredible! 5 billion gallons of rock just gushing from the earth, however in reality this is small fry for Kileua, which in turn is pretty small and inactive as far as Hawaiian Volcanoes of the past go!

During a “Steady” Phase of the 2018 Puna Event, the flow was enough to create this lake in less than 2 days and overall produced enough Lava to fill the entire Kilauea Caldera, only it erupted from the eastern Rift Zone, not the Summit, and remember Kilea has in the past produced enough Lave to creat the entire landscape! At present, it’s filling a small hole in what it has already created!

Then we need to compare Kilauea to Mauna Kea Mauna Loa and Haleakala! These monster Volcano’s dwarf the young Kilauea and have in the past effused more Lave than is scarcely imaginable. These monsters do not sit on the Islands they are the island and rise up from the seafloor to create some of the most massive objects on earth! Compared to creating an entire Hawaiian Island creating a small lava lake inside a crater is a pretty small fry! But Kilauea is not done and we now await to see what she produces next!

Current Situation at Kilauea – May 2021

After several months of Spewing Lava from several vents into the Caldera, the lake slowly rose up to the level of the vents and slowly drowned them. This brought this stage of the eruption to end in May 2021. The Lake has now crusted over (but is still several hundred °C ) and the Lava Supply has dried up. The final Lake height is 229 meters (751 ft) deep and filled almost half the lower crater bowl.

However, for almost 6 month the Volcano spewed Lava into the Crater so anyone thinking Pele is done is likely to be kidding themselves. With the Lava Chambers blocked off, pressure will be rising and the next eruption imminent. Of course, it is anyone’s guess where this will be but fingers crossed it stays contained to the Summit Caldera and away from the homes of Hawaii’s residents.

Footage of the Volcano!

The USGS Volcanoes division has some pretty incredible footage of the eruption and has been constantly updating its Facebook feed over the last few days, despite it being Christmas! We highly recommend following them to get the absolute latest! We bring you some of the best below!

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

Video 4

Video 5

Visiting the Volcano

Kilauea eruption 2020 NPS
Moonbow over Kilauea, Hawaii- NPS

Along with many our first reaction to seeing an Eruption taking place is to head straight to the Park! And many have been doing just that. Carparks and FAcilities are full to capacity and long queues are forming to get to the popular look-outs.

Since the Jagger Observatory was all but destroyed in an explosive event, the Park Service has kept guests away from the rim, and really all you are able to view in the park is a distant glow. It is quite impressive to know you are witnessing Madame Pele in action but the vantage points really are quite distant and to e honest disappointing. Safety is paramount and the Volcano can turn angry in a moment leaving no time to evacuate so guests must be kept at a safe distance.

Visiting the park is fantastic but the actual viewing of Live Lava is pretty disappointing at the minute. The best views really are from the USGS Facebook feed!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it Safe to Visit the Park?

Yes, the Park Service is overtly careful in protecting its guests. The only overlooks available at present are far from the lava. There are no signs of any explosive events on the horizon so as long as you follow ALL NPS guidelines you will be perfectly safe visiting the park.

Is the Eruption Dangerous

Not at present, the eruption is safely contained inside the Caldera and is non-explosive so there are no threats to any people or properties at present. The Re-Awakening could cause vents to open up lower down in other Rift-Zones nearer populated areas but there are no signs of this at present.

How Long will it take to overflow the Crater?

While it seems that the huge amount of Lava that flooded the Crater has filled vast amounts of the crater very quickly, the fact is the bottom of the crater is the easiest to fill. The Crater is Conical in shape so the bottom portion takes much less volume to fill than the top. At current flow rates, we are looking at years to fill up the entire Kilauea Caldera.

Of Course, another vent could open up, and pressures surge causing lava to flow far quicker, the Kilauea Volcano is capable of huge volumes of lava flow when it likes, but there is nothing at present showing that is likely to be the case. The fastest-flowing vent all bu stopped as soon as the level reached its mouth, should the level reach the East vent that too will likely buckle under the pressure. Unless something changes the lake will unlikely reach much higher than it is.

Something could of course change, including the Volcano returning to dormancy.

Will the Eruption Move to the East Rift Zone?

According to the USGS, the Current Eruption shows n sign of relocating to the East Rift Zone. This is good news for the remaining communities that were ravaged in 2018 as the Eruption is completely and safely contained in the Caldera, however, as the Eruption has moved in the past there is no saying this will not happen again in the future, in fact, it is all but guaranteed, the only question is when.

What is Happening at Puu Oo

Puu Oo is, for now, asleep. The Crater that has been most active and most impressive during the 1983-2018 Eruption looks like it is extinct. The Beginning of the 2018 Phase saw a huge collapse at the Puu Oo Crater that may well have spelled the permanent end to the Puu Oo Eruption as lava completely drained away from the area to the Lower East Rift Zone.

Have You Say

Let us know your thoughts on the Kilauea Eruption 2020, Have you managed to get to see the event? What do you think will happen next? and what are your feelings so far? let us know in the comments below, and if you have any questions just fire away! We will be sure to keep this post updated with events as they unfold!

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2 thoughts on “Kilauea Volcano Eruption 2020/21 – Pele Returns to the Big Island in Spectacular Fashion! Hawaii Volcano Update!”

  1. Wow, this is a brilliant article with some spectacular footage of the volcano. Personally I am terrified of volcanoes, most probably after visiting Pompeii, and seeing the destruction that was caused by the eruption. I would prefer to look at footage, rather than going to the park to see.

    Do you have an indication of the heat from the lava lake that can be felt at the observation point in the park?

    Reply
    • Hi, there really is very little to be scared of from the hawaii volcanoes, they tend to me gentle giants, flowing out lava (effusive) rather than the angrier explosive types such as Vesuvius! The gentle lava flows are a risk to propety and neighborhoods caught in the path but there is ample warning to get out of the way, the last big eruption 2018, had zero deaths, and as a whole very few people are killed by hawaiis active volcanoes. 

      unfortunately the overlook at the visitor center is too far away to feel any heat from the lake. This is to ensure safety. The best views definitely come from the footage provided by the USGS

      Thanks 

      Steve 

      Reply

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