(Originally published May 2018, Updated September 2019)
There are several different types of volcanoes in the world, varying in form and activity level. The Hawaiian volcanoes are a well known group among scientists and visitors from around the world. Kilauea, in particular, is renowned as one of the most active volcanoes on Earth.
What Type of Volcano is Kilauea?
So, what type of volcano is Kilauea? Let’s explore a bit more about shield volcanoes and specific characteristics of Kilauea.
Shield Volcanoes in Hawaii
The volcanoes in Hawaii were created by an active hotspot and formed from basaltic lava. Basalt is a type of lava that is very fluid when released in eruptions, and is commonly found at volcanic hotspots. These volcanoes fall into the category of shield volcanoes.
Shield volcanoes are among the largest volcanoes on Earth. Kilauea and Mauna Loa, for example, are both famous Hawaiian examples of the shield volcano type.
Shield volcanoes aren’t steep. They have a flatter, more rounded shape as the lava is very fluid and can flow quickly over large distances. The eruptions are generally characterized by ‘low-explosivity fountaining’ of lava. The fact that visitors can get up close to lava flows to take pictures and explore hints at the fact that people can easily outrun this lava. It typically isn’t of immediate danger.
Explosive eruptions do sometimes occur, but they tend to be infrequent. Water that seeps into the vents can cause explosive eruptions. The broad profile created by the more gentle eruptions and lava flows resembles the shape of a shield lying on the earth.
Characteristics of the Shield Volcano, Kilauea
Kilauea is the youngest and most active volcano on the Big Island. It sits to the Southeast of the largest shield volcano, Mauna Loa.
From 1983 to 2018, Kilauea was in a continuous state of eruption. As a result, the volcano had its longest eruption in over 200 year. Scientists have documented the activities of Kilauea since the 1820s. The eruptions also play a large role in shaping Hawaiian legends.
At the summit of Kilauea, there is a large caldera with a central pit crater, named Halemaumau. According to Hawaiian legends, Halemaumau is the home of Pele, the goddess of fire. A caldera is a large, bowl-shaped volcanic depression that forms when the volcano collapses into itself. This is usually the result of a large eruption that empties the magma chamber beneath it. The Kilauea caldera was originally formed in stages around 15,000 years ago. After the 2018 eruption ended, Kilauea’s summit crater collapsed and its lava lake drained.
Due to frequent volcanic activity, around 90% of Kilauea consists of lava flows that are less than 1,100 years old. In addition, 70% of the surface is under 600 years old. The eruption that started in 1983 and ended in 2018 was in the East Rift Zone. In total, estimates place the destruction caused by lava flows at over 600 homes on the Big Island. Lava flowing to the ocean also added new coastline to the island.
Kilauea is a prime example of an active shield volcano made of basalt lava that also has the characteristic shield shape. The youngest on the island, it is the most active volcano in the world.
Kilauea Since the 2018 Eruption
Since volcanic activity ceased in 2018, the shield volcano has not been erupting. When the summit collapsed, the amount of Earth that fell was equal to about 300,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools!
However, despite there not being anymore visible lava, Kilauea is still active. No one knows when the next eruption will happen, but scientists believe that Mauna Loa may be next!
Interested in Seeing Hawaiian Volcanoes?
If you love learning about the volcanoes of Hawaii, you won’t want to miss our Doors Off Helicopter Tour. Visitors can experience the Kilauea aftermath from hundreds of feet above the ground through the open doors of a helicopter. Because Kilauea had over 30 years straight of activity, you’ll be able to see how lava flows have shaped the coastline and landscape. On this fun-filled tour, you’ll also fly over rain forest and gaze over Mauna Loa’s vistas.