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Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano awakes, awesomely fountains lava into the air

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The lava has returned.

On Sunday night, the U.S. Geological Survey reported an eruption at Kīlauea, the youngest Hawaiian volcano whose gushing lava rivers captivated the world in 2018. For the first time since May 2018, lava has returned to the volcano’s summit, specifically inside a big crater located in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. And for the first time since August 2018, lava erupted anywhere on Kīlauea.

The fountaining lava, spraying nearly 60 feet into the air, is an awesome sight alone, but the event is also significant because it ends an over two-year eruption drought. Prior to 2018, Kīlauea had erupted almost continuously for more than 30 years. But after sensational activity in 2018, the eruption ended and the volcano’s famed lava lake (inside the crater) drained.

“Not freaking out. In awe! This is amazing!,” the USGS Volcanoes account tweeted in reply to someone’s (quite silly) remark that the eruption is “natural” and essentially nothing to be excited or “freak out” about. (It’s OK to appreciate awesome natural events!) 

Kīlauea is one of the most fascinating volcanoes on Earth. The volcano has, by erupting lava, been gradually growing, layer by layer, with cooled lava rock for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s added 570 acres of new land to the Big Island since the early 1980s. One day, Kīlauea is likely to be a dominant Hawaiian mountain, like its older Big Island siblings Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Generally, Hawaiian volcanoes erupt gently and build themselves up over millennia, as opposed to explosive volcanoes, which, well, can explode violently and collapse.

 

(Hawaiian volcanoes can sometimes explode, often due to build-ups of pressure, particularly from amassing steam. This hasn’t yet happened with the recent Dec. 20 eruption.)

After the new eruption began, lava quickly replaced a small water lake that had formed at the bottom of the crater. Now, along with lava fountaining in the crater, the volcano has released a plume, made up of steam and volcanic gases, into the sky.

We’ll see how this new eruptive activity all plays out. 

“How long this will last is anyone’s guess at this point, but it marks the beginning of a new chapter of eruption at Kīlauea,” volcanologist Erik Klemetti wrote in his Discover blog

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