Kīlauea, One Year Later: Volcanic Hazards Remain A Threat

May 1, 2019

At 12:46 p.m. HST, on May 3, 2018, a robust, reddish-brown ash plume rises after a magnitude-6.9 earthquake shook the Island of Hawai‘i. The ground shaking caused rockfalls and possibly additional collapse into the Pu'u 'Ō'ō crater on Kīlauea Volcano's East Rift Zone. A short-lived plume of ash produced by this event lofted skyward and dissipated as it drifted southwest from Pu'u 'Ō'ō.
Credit U.S. Geological Survey

This Friday makes a year since Kīlauea erupted, sending lava into residential communities on Hawaiʻi Island. The event displaced about 2,000 people and claimed more than 700 homes in the Puna area of the Big Island. Many of the residents are still recovering. Among them are the scientists who monitor the volcano that could rumble to life at any time.



Geophysicist Ingrid Johanson is still adjusting to life after the eruption. She and fellow scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey Hawai’ian Volcano Observatory abandoned their Kilauea Summit headquarters last summer because of earthquakes and ash. 

The former headquarters of the USGS Hawaiʻian Volcano Observatory located at the Kīlauea Summit inside the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Eruption-related activity at the summit forced HVO staff to evacuate last summer. They are now scattered throughout three separate locations on the east side of Hawai'i Island.
Credit Ken Lund / Flickr

“Honestly, this period has been really tough for us,” said Johanson. “We're a relatively small staff and we’re used to interacting with each other very closely.” 

The observatory is known worldwide as a leader in the study of active volcanoes. Johanson and her crew have been monitoring Kīlauea's volcanic activity from different locations since the eruption. 



Johanson and several other HVO scientists and staff work out of the old Customs building near the Hilo Harbor in Keaukaha.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“So Kilauea is still adjusting to all the changes that happened this past summer,” said Johanson. “This was a huge event. In a way, the volcano is still recovering.” 


Last year on May 3, lava began spewing from a four-mile long fissure system on Kīlauea’s eastern flank. Pressure that built up at the summit forced magma down into Puna. 

During an overflight last May, HVO scientists observed a very active fissure 20 from Hawai'i's Kīlauea Volcano. Lava flows from a line of low fountains were moving toward the ocean.
Credit U.S. Geological Survey


“We saw the collapses at the summit, very much related to the eruption out in the lower east rift zone,” said Johanson. “So that we really need to consider the entire system of the volcano in making any type of forecasts about what might happen into the future.” 


So could Kīlauea erupt again?


Johanson levels a tripod during a routine survey of Kilauea's East Rift Zone.
Credit U.S. Geological Survey



Johanson said scientists are seeing new magma refill volcanic chambers in the East Rift Zone. She said while there is no imminent threat, the fresh bed of lava serves as a reminder of the hazard posed by living on an active volcano.   


“This summer’s eruption didn’t change the hazard associated with each of those flow zones,” said Johanson. “So people should continue to really consider those really seriously when making long-term plans.” 

Coming Up: Later this week, we take a look at how people affected by the eruption in Puna are trying to recover their lives.

Previous Coverage: From what did and did not cause the eruption to the lingering psychological effects of the event.