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Kilauea - Eruption Update - Eruption Summary - Hazards - History

Kilauea - Perhaps the World's Most Active Volcano

Kilauea is the youngest and southeasternmost volcano on the Big Island of Hawai`i. Topographically Kilauea appears as only a bulge on the southeastern flank of Mauna Loa, and so for many years Kilauea was thought to be a mere satellite of its giant neighbor, not a separate volcano. However, research over the past few decades shows clearly that Kilauea has its own magma-plumbing system, extending to the surface from more than 60 km deep in the earth.

In fact, the summit of Kilauea lies on a curving line of volcanoes that includes Mauna Kea and Kohala and excludes Mauna Loa. In other words, Kilauea is to Mauna Kea as Lo`ihi is to Mauna Loa. Hawaiians used the word Kilauea only for the summit caldera, but earth scientists and, over time, popular usage have extended the name to include the entire volcano.

Kilauea is the home of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. Hawaiian chants and oral traditions tell in veiled form of many eruptions fomented by an angry Pele before the first European, the missionary Rev. William Ellis, saw the summit in 1823. The caldera was the site of nearly continuous activity during the 19th century and the early part of this century. Since 1952 there have been 34 eruptions, and since January 1983 eruptive activity has been continuous along the east rift zone. All told, Kilauea ranks among the world's most active volcanoes and may even top the list.

Hawaiian Meaning
The Hawaiian name "Kilauea" means "spewing" or "much spreading," apparently in reference to the lava flows that it erupts.

Kilauea Facts

19.425 N 155.292 W

Elev. Above Sea Level
1,277 m
4,190 ft

1,430 km2
552 mi2
(13.7% of Hawai`i)

25,000-35,000 km3
6,000-8,500 mi3

Most Recent Eruption
Continuous since January 3, 1983

Number of Historical Eruptions
61, not counting the continuous lava-lake activity in Halema`uma`u crater

Summit Caldera
Name: The caldera itself has no Hawaiian name other than Kilauea but houses the famous crater, Halema`uma`u; "hale" is a house, "ma`uma`u" a type of fern. Kamapua`a, a jilted suitor of Pele, is said to have built a house of ferns over Halema`uma`u to keep Pele from escaping her home and causing eruptions. The ploy failed.

Oldest Dated Rocks
23,000 years old

Estimated Age of Earliest Subaerial Eruptions
50,000-100,000 years

Estimated Age of First Eruption of Kilauea
300,000-600,000 years before present

Hawaiian Volcano Stage
Shield-forming stage

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Updated : June 18, 2001 (pnf)