Experts See a 'Real Challenge' as Hawaii's Kilauea Pauses

3-month break in surface lava leaves plenty of uncertainty
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 5, 2018 12:34 PM CST
Sulfur covers the mouth of a volcanic fissure in Pahoa, Hawaii, on Oct. 12, 2018.   (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
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(Newser) – Hawaii's Kilauea, given the highest overall threat score of any volcano in the country, appears to be calming down. The volcano that's been erupting almost continuously for 35 years, forcing thousands from their homes this spring and summer, has produced no surface lava on the Big Island, including at its summit and vents, in the past three months, reports CNN, quoting the lead scientist of the US Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. "At its simplest, it just means there is not enough pressure in the system to push magma up and out," says Tina Neal. There's "a lot of room in the volcano to refill before it erupts again." Per CNN, there has never been such a lengthy pause in Kilauea's streak of 60 eruption episodes since January 1983.

Though the volcano remains active, Neal describes the chance of resumed eruptions as "very unlikely at this point." USGS geologist Don Swanson is slightly less confident, with the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reporting the 1969-74 eruption of Kilaueau's Mauna Ulu cone resumed after a pause of more than three months. "We're in a pause of some sort," he tells CNN a week after penning an essay in which he noted "the current inactivity at Kilauea has so many possible outcomes that it is a real challenge to figure out what might happen next." A transition to fewer effusive eruptions and more explosive ones is possible as "this has happened in the past," Swanson adds, per CNN. Regardless, Neal says lava flows could stay hot for years, while ground fissures remain unstable. (At least Kilauea isn't a supervolcano.)

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