Lower east rift zone, Kilauea Volcano

Surface Features

Map of lower east rift zone, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i

Map showing location of main features along the lower east rift zone, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i. The lower east rift zone is between Heiheiahulu and Cape Kumukahi. Click on map to see a larger sized-version.

  1955-T Vents
  Pu`u Kaliu
  Pu`ulena Crater
  Geothermal facility
  Pu`u Honuaula
  Pu`u Laimana
  Kuki`i and Pu`u Kukae
  Nanewale Sand Hills

More about lower east rift zone

| upper east rift zone | middle east rift zone | Puna Ridge |

Photo of 1955 "T" Vents, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i

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1955 "T" Vent
This is one of several small spatter cones that erupted in 1955 along a 15-km-long portion of the lower east rift zone; Vent T is located about 700 m south of I`ilewa Crater. Mining has removed much of the 1955 spatter and cinder in this area, including entire cones.

Photo of Pu`u Kaliu, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i

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Pu`u Kali`u (well salted hill)
Mining of this cinder and spatter cone has exposed the interior layers of tephra and spatter (left side of image). The cone formed between about 400 and 750 years ago during an eruption that sent lava over an area of 18 km2. The eruption is one of the largest that occurred in the lower east rift zone during this time period—nearly 0.2 km3 of lava was erupted. Pu`u Kali`u is about 60 m tall. The subdivision of Leilani Estates borders the north side of the cone.

This view is toward the south.


Photo of Pu`ulena Crater, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i

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Pu`ulena Crater (Yellow Hill)
Three pit craters, largely overgrown with vegetation, form elongate Pu`ulena Crater about 100 m east of Leilani Estates subdivision. The crater is about 700 m long, 25 m wide, and about 100 m deep. Scientists associate collapse of the three pit craters with steam-driven explosive eruptions that blanketed the area with rock debris as thick as 20 m. The explosive eruption probably took place when ascending magma encountered perched groundwater or a hydrothermal reservoir, and the ground may have collapsed due to the subsequent withdrawal of magma. The nearby Kahuwai (water master) Crater and Pawai (water container or trough) Crater are also pit craters associated with this explosive activity, which occurred 450-700 years ago. Steam rises from some ancient vents but is visible only occasionally.

Parts of this fairly remote area are private property and accessible only with permission from the owners.

This view is toward the northeast along the axis of the three pit craters that form Pu`ulena Crater.


Photo of geothermal facility, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i

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Geothermal facility
The first commercial geothermal power plant in Hawai`i is built on the lower east rift zone of Kilauea atop lava flows erupted in 1955. The plant consists of three production wells (as of 2002) drilled to depths between 1,220 and 1,830 m below the surface. Geothermal fluid brought to the surface consists of steam and brine. The steam is separated and routed through turbine-generator modules. Brine, condensed steam, and other gases are injected back into the ground via three wells drilled to depths between 1,830 and 2,134 m. All of the fluids brought up from the "resource" area are returned—the plant is a closed-loop system.

Currently, the plant produces 35 megawatts of electricity—about 25 percent of the electrical demand for the Island of Hawai`i in 1997. The plant is operated by the Puna Geothermal Venture (tour the plant, courtesy of Puna Geothermal Venture).

This view of the plant's air coolers looks uprift toward the southwest (Pu`u `O`o vent is visible on the skyline in the large image). There is an air cooler for each turbine-generator module (currently 10 modules); only five air coolers are shown here.


Photo of Pu`u Honua`ula, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i

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Photo from top of Pu`u Honua`ula looking uprift, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i

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Pu`u Honua`ula (red place of refuge)
This overgrown spatter cone (left-hand side of image) is the largest of a group of five vents that erupted about 340 years ago. A crater tops the nearly 50-m tall cone. The two cones in this image are privately owned by Puna Geothermal Venture; the geothermal facility shown above is located on the opposite (south) side of the cones.

This view looks toward the southeast.


The top of Pu`u Honua`ula provides a clear view of the east rift zone all the way to Pu`u `O`o. This photo shows at least three of the 1955 eruptive vents (in foreground and on the crest of the rift zone). See description of Pu`u Kali`u above; this side of the cone is thickly carpeted with vegetation. The burned area below Pu`u Kali`u is in the middle of Leilani Estates, spread across the east rift zone.

This view looks uprift from the top of Pu`u Honua`ula toward the west-southwest.


Photo of Halekamahina, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i

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Halekamahina (house of the moon)
This low spatter cone, 400 to 750 years old, rises about 70 m above surrounding terrain. The cone erupted both `a`a and pahoehoe, and its summit is dimpled by a crater about 25 m deep. Papaya trees cover the cone all the way to the top.

This view toward the northeast is from the top of a 1955 spatter cone about 1.5 km from Halekamahina.


Photo of Pu`u Laimana, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i

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Pu`u Laimana (Lyman's Hill)
This 110-m tall spatter cone grew up around the most active vents of the 1960 eruption in the lower east rift zone (see detailed summary of eruption). Lava flows from this and other vents covered the village of Kapoho, located only 800 m south, and poured into the sea along the easternmost tip of the island (see map). Lava fountains from Pu`u Laimana reached as high as about 500 m. Today, the spatter and cinder from Pu`u Laimana are mined. On cloudless days, the summit of Pu`u Laimana provides a spectacular view of east rift zone all the way to Mauna Ulu.

This view toward the northeast is from the flank of Halakamahina cone.


Photo of Pu`u Laimana, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i

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Kuki`i (standing image) cone and Pu`u Kukae (dung hill)
Surrounded by flows from the 1960 eruption, these overgrown cones erupted between about 400 and 750 years ago. During the 1960 eruption, a rock barrier was bulldozed along the north side of the two cones (left side of image); lava ponding behind the barrier reached a depth of more than 15 m. The resulting high pressure at the base of the flow injected lava beneath the barrier into the uncompacted cinder of the Kuki`i cone. The lava squeezing through the cone floated a 150-m-long part of the cone as high as 10 m above its original position (right side of image). A few days later, new lava moving beneath the barrier and through the cone disrupted even more of the cone, thrusting blocks upward another 6-7 m. See detailed summary of the eruption.

This view is toward the southeast.


Photo of littoral cone at Nanawale Sand Hills, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i

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Nanawale Sand Hills (just look around)
A sea cliff exposes the interior of two littoral cones on the northeast shoreline of Kilauea Volcano. These cones were built on the margins of `a`a flows that erupted in 1840 from fissures located near Pahoa; Nanawale Estates is built atop these flows. Cracks in the rubbly tops of `a`a flows allow water to penetrate to the hot core of the flows more readily than on the smooth surface of pahoehoe flows, thereby triggering larger littoral explosions. The littoral cones were about 75 m tall when the eruption stopped. By 1865, erosion by wave action had reduced them to a height of about 25 m. See ground view of one of the littoral cones.

Photo of Cape Kumukahi Lighthouse, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i

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Cape Kumukahi (first beginning) lighthouse
Lava flows from the 1960 eruption came to within a few meters of this lighthouse and buried the nearby U.S. Coast Guard station.