Death and rebirth at Kilauea


The Kahauale‘a 2 lava flow officially met its demise this week.

Geologists with Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said the slow-moving flow was tapped out as of Monday, its supply of magma robbed by new activity at Pu‘u ‘O‘o.

It leaves behind a 5.5-mile path of hardened lava, some of it through the Wao Kele O Puna Forest Reserve.

For over a year, it edged slowly in the direction of residential areas several miles downslope, though geologists note there was no immediate threat.

“It was still very far away and moving very slowly and very erratically,” said Matthew Patrick, HVO geologist.

But Pu‘u ‘O‘o is hardly quiet, and the new lava breakout at the crater June 27 is sending lava, slowly, once again in the same north/northeast direction.

It started following a burst of earthquake activity shortly before 7 a.m., according to HVO. The northeast flank began to rise slightly as magma pushed its way up from below.

The magma was released through new fissures, creating an impressive stream of lava that reached about 1 mile that day.

Patrick said this released the pressure from underneath, and diverted magma from the Kahauale‘a 2 flow.

“It basically punched a hole in the magmatic system,” he said.

Patrick said a portion of the Kahauale‘a 2 flow’s lava tube was exposed near the crater. Seen Monday by geologists, the tube was empty, he said.

The rate of the new flow also dropped following the June 27 event. But it continues to be fed, producing new short flows that are building a broad lava shield on Pu‘u ‘O‘o’s flank.

“In the long term, this could eventually start setting up a new tube system,” Patrick said.

“We just have to watch to see which direction the flow migrates out.”

Patrick said this latest event is nothing unusual. Numerous interruptions have occurred throughout the lifespan of the 30-plus years of nearly continual activity on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone.

In 2011, similar events at Pu‘u ‘O‘o occurred, though with more vigor and force.

Overall, recent activity at the crater is lower than normal, Patrick said.

“The activity we see on the surface is a little more subdued compared to typical…,” he said.

“We don’t know if that is a short-term change or whether it’s part of a long-term change.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune- herald.com.

 

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