But vulcanologists monitoring and measuring Kilauea’s every move during the past four weeks hastened to add the latest change in the volcano’s behavior, while undoubtedly significant, leaves them uncertain about what will follow.
The summit crater, called the ‘Halema’uma’u Crater, which began ejecting ash and volcanic rock in periodic, daily eruptions in mid-May, has grown calmer since Wednesday but still displays signs of activity, said Jessica Ball, volcanologist for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
“At the summit, ash continue to erupt intermittently from the vent in Halema’uma’u Crater and continued explosions and elevated seismicity are expected. And the overlook vent itself within the crater has grown from about 12 acres (4.9 hectares) to more than 100 acres (40.5 hectares) as a result of the explosions,” said Ball.
The volcano’s future behavior ultimately hinges on the ebb and flow of huge rivers of molten rock called magma, the term for lava while it remains underground.
The steady collapse of the crater’s inner walls, caused by magma draining out of the summit and oozing downslope under the volcano’s surface, has also greatly enlarged the mouth of the vent.
At the same time, the Kilauea summit itself has sunken, or subsided, by at least 5 feet (1.50 meters) in elevation as the magma level continues to drop, exerting tremendous pressure on seismic faults to create numerous earthquakes, mostly small tremors, in the immediate vicinity.
Although the summit crater of Kilauea has fallen silent for the moment, many of the two dozen volcanic fissures running through populated areas on its eastern flank continued to spout and ooze lava and toxic gases that prompted the evacuation of some 2,500 residents.
At least 75 homes—most of them in the hard-hit community of Leilani Estates—have been devoured by streams of red-hot molten rock creeping across the landscape since May 3. Lava flows also have knocked out power and telephone lines in the region, disrupting communications.
The latest upheaval of Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, comes on the heels of an earlier eruption cycle that began in 1983 and continued almost nonstop for 35 years, destroying 215 dwellings and other structures.