(Updated August 2019)
Kilauea is a shield volcano―one of the five volcanoes that form the Big Island of Hawaii. It’s the most active volcano in Hawaii and in the world. It’s most recent activity began in May 2018, when Kilauea showed signs of above-normal activity. Earthquakes, opening fissures, and violent explosions caused thousands of nearby residents to evacuate.
Documentation of these eruptions began in the early 1800s. Records of Kilauea and its eruptions can be found in much older native Hawaiians legends. Myth says that the volcano Goddess, Pele, rests in the center crater of Kilauea. Pele is also known as “She who shapes the sacred land,” thanks to the land that fresh lava flow creates. So, when each eruption formed this new land, people would often leave her offerings for her generosity.
Considering Kilauea was spewing lava for over 35 years, starting all the way back in 1983, the question “when was the last time Kilauea erupted” isn’t so easy to answer.
About the Kilauea Volcano
“Mount Kilauea spilled glowing lava like cords of orange neon-lighting from seemingly nowhere. In the blackness that engulfed the night, electric heat lit flowing streams that fell into the sea, disappearing in a cloud of steam with a sizzling splash.”
― Victoria Kahler, Capturing the Sunset
The Kilauea volcano is located on the southeastern side of the Big Island of Hawaii. Geologists previously suggested that Kilauea could be a part of another volcano, Mauna Loa. However, geological data has shown that it’s a separate volcano with an individual vent system.
Kilauea is the youngest volcano in Hawaii, and also the most active. The volcano summit stands at 4,091 ft (1,227 m). Its structure above sea level forms around 14% of the island’s land area. The caldera at the summit of Kilauea contains a crater with a lava lake. The lava levels in the crater, known as Halemaumau, have fluctuated with eruption activity and lava flows elsewhere.
Recent Eruption History of Kilauea
Kilauea’s most recent eruption cycle helps to answer the question of when the last time Kilauea erupted actually is. This cycle started in January 1983 and began to settle down in September of 2018. Lasting over 30 years, this was the most extended, constant eruption cycle on Earth. Volcanic activity started in the East Rift Zone and since then, it mainly stayed at the Pu’u ‘O’o vent. The ongoing eruptions produced constant activity and changes in the levels of lava in the area as well.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, lava flows have covered 48 square miles of land on the Big Island of Hawaii and changed the coastline over the years. This is because the lava released in eruptions travels to the ocean in lava tubes, below the ground’s surface.
However, larger eruptions like this led to lava overflows, which destroyed buildings in the town of Kapana, Leilani Estates, and Royal Gardens subdivisions. Damaged roads and facilities forced residents to evacuate or even give up their land to Pele.
Is Kilauea Still Erupting in 2019?
According to a report dating August 6th 2019 published by the U.S. Geological Survey, Kilauea is not erupting right now. This doesn’t mean that Pele or her volcanic body of Kilauea is inactive, though. The ground at Kilauea has consistently elevated temperatures. The U.S. Geological Survey states that these higher temperatures are likely long-term. This is much like the decades long activity that had lasted after the eruption of Kilauea in 1955.
A Uniquely Hawaiian Experience
Today, the United States Geological Survey continues closely monitor volcanic activity in the summit and rift zones. There are still active cameras within the volcano’s caldera so that spectators can monitor and see the volcano and its activity online, almost a year after its eruption has ended.
This volcanic activity makes Kilauea a unique, interesting sight for both scientists and visitors alike. It is the perfect chance to see the aftermath of a 35 year long eruption. The current activity post-eruption at Kilauea still gives scientists a chance to study its unique geological activity, as well as get a glimpse at how the Earth continuously renews itself. In addition, visitors have a chance to experience the ever changing outcome brought on by these rare forces of nature.
Looking to see Kilauea and its renewal after the last time it erupted? Visiting Kilauea from the ground can be dangerous even if lava has stopped flowing, but helicopter tours provide a much safer alternative.
To follow the most recent Hawaii volcano activity, catch updates and pictures on our Lava Update blog.