Halema'uma'u Crater is home to one of the largest lava lakes on the planet. Prior to the 2018 eruption the bright orange and red lava hissed and churned, sometimes spattering lava out or even overflowing into the crater. The glow from the lava lake drew millions of visitors every year to the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. I was a tour bus driver in 2018, and I was in the park nearly every day. It felt exciting but safe, as this spot had been erupting in about the same way for over 30 years.
Halema'uma'u crater with rainbow coming out of it
I loved bringing people to see this amazing sight. In May of that year, Kīlauea reminded us all that it is one of the most active shield volcanoes on Earth, and it all started with swarms of earthquakes.
Pu'u Ō'ō vent
Pu'u Ō'ō vent was the source for most of the lava erupted from Kilauea since 1983, and I lived about 3 miles away. In April of 2018 I started noticing an uptick in the number of earthquakes that I could feel daily. This swarm alerted volcanologists that something could be happening with Kilauea due to the fact that this is commonly a precursor for eruptions. Then, on April 30th, something very interesting happened. The lava inside of the Pu'u Ō'ō vent drained out completely, leaving behind an empty tube. This put the island on alert for a possible eruption, but no one knew for sure where or when it would happen.
Pu'u O'o erupting in 1983
Lava lake drops
By the next day, scientists had determined that the lava from Pu'u Ō'ō had started moving East toward the town of Pāhoa. This was because the swarms of earthquakes were travelling in this direction. Back at Halema'uma'u, the lava inside the lake began to drain as well. This would mean more lava travelling toward Pāhoa, along the East Rift Zone. Lava will usually travel along rift zones, especially in shield volcanoes, mainly because it is the path of least resistance. My family and I packed an emergency evacuation kit in preparation for an eruption, which seemed all but imminent at this point. Since there was no way to be sure where the eruption would happen, everyone just watched and waited.
Lava lake inside of Halema'uma'u
Leilani Estates visited by lava
Leilani Estates, a small neighborhood in Pāhoa, was where the eruption began when the first fissure opened on May 3rd and lava began oozing out into the streets. A fissure is basically a crack in the ground that lava erupts from. A total of 24 fissures opened during the 2018 eruption.
Lava erupting in Leilani estates
Jaggar Museum is where I was standing on May 4th when the largest earthquake of this eruption struck. I was only feet from the edge of the crater, swaying back and forth for nearly 40 seconds from the power of the 6.9 magnitude quake. A giant cloud of ash and debris came billowing out of the crater. Needless to say, I was terrified as I moved quickly to round up my passengers. This earthquake was felt throughout the state of Hawai'i and even generated small tsunami waves that reached all the way to Kaua'i due to an underwater landslide created by the quake.
Ash plume over Halema'uma'u after an earthquake
Explosions at the summit
Explosions began happening at the summit of Kīlauea once the lava completely drained from the crater. Once the empty tube reached the water table, any debris or rocks that fell into the tube would block the sulfur dioxide gases from escaping and the heated water would turn into steam. This created explosion events roughly every 28 hours, generating an earthquake of about 5.5 magnitude each time. I felt them all at my house since I live close by. It was nerve-wracking for me and made my 3 dogs very uneasy.
Plume of ash and debris after a collapse event
Lava fountains from fissure 8
Fissure 8, later officially named ʻAhuʻailāʻau, eventually stood out as the main active vent for this eruption. It grew quickly and the peak height of the cinder cone reached 180 feet tall. I could see ʻAhuʻailāʻau easily from my road, even from 13 miles away, the lava was fountaining hundreds of feet into the air. It was estimated that this fissure was spewing out 25,000 gallons of lava per second, which accumulated to 30 billion gallons over the course of the eruption.
Eruption at Fissure 8
River of lava
A river of lava ran through the Puna District and entered the ocean in two different places. From where I lived, I could see the steam that was created when the 2,000-degree lava entered the cool ocean water. At night, the glow from the river illuminated the whole Eastern sky, turning it a deep red color reminiscent of the glow from Halema'uma'u at the summit of Kīlauea.
River of lava running from Fissure 8
The end of an era
This eruption was the end of an era. Kīlauea had been continuously erupting for 35 years, but by the autumn of 2018 it grew quiet and dark. This eruption covered 13.7 square miles and destroyed 700 homes. Although it was a hard time for many people, including myself, I feel fortunate to have been able to witness this amazing event first-hand. It is an event that will never be forgotten; however, we know that Kīlauea isn't finished yet.
A cooled pahoehoe lava flow
Special Thanks to Geology 103 Honolulu Community College
An Ama'u fern growing in a'a lava at the National Park
All photos courtesy of Rae Scachette and USGS