Kilauea Volcano

Kilauea Volcano
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Address Kilauea Overlook, Pahoa, HI 96778
One of the most active volcanos in the world is on Hawaii's Big Island.

• General: Educational • General: Guide • General: History

Kilauea Volcano is a hyperactive shield volcano located on Hawaii's Big Island. It's the most active of the five volcanoes that form the Big Island and possibly the most active volcanoes in the world. Some of the other Big Island volcanoes include Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.

You'll find it along the southern side of the island and it's estimated to be 300,000 to 600,000 years old though it's only been above sea level for the last 100,000 years. Kilauea is made up of a large caldera at its summit that is more recently formed as well as two active rift zones. One of the rifts extends over 75 miles to the east and the other over 20 miles to the west. These create an active fault line with an unknown depth that moves vertically almost an inch per year.

The name Kilauea means "spewing" or "much spreading" in the Hawaiian language which is fitting given how much lava spews out of this volcano. The first well known eruption was back in 1823 and since then the volcano has been erupting repeatedly with most occurring at the summit or southwest rift zone. Although current eruptions aren't as dangerous, geological records suggest that older eruptions (pre-European contact) were far more violent and explosive. If that level of activity returns to this volcano it may pose a serious threat to inhabitants of the Big Island.

The current eruption started on January 3, 1983 and has been flowing ever since, producing around a cubic mile of lava which covered over 50 square miles of land while also adding to the overall size of the Big Island. Every day an estimated 250,000 to 650,000 cubic yards flow from the volcano. That's enough to create a two lane road that's 20 miles long! Taking that same 20 mile long road, if you let the lava accumulate on it since 1983 it would be 20 miles tall! Of course, the lava mostly flows through lava tubes into the ocean and creates layers of rubble to the submarine layers of Kilauea.

That's not to say that Kilauea Volcano is safe. There is an almost daily threat of Vog which can cause major breathing hazards at times, especially when the tradewinds reverse directions and blow from the southeast. When this happens, the Vog can blow back over the island (as well as the other Hawaiian Islands) rather than blowing out to sea when the tradewinds come from their normal northeast direction. One of the dangerous components of vog is volcanic sulfur dioxide which, in addition to breathing hazards, creates acid rain.

As far as Hawaiian Mythology is concerned, Kilauea's Halemaumau Crater is home to Pele - The Volcano Goddess. Pele isn't really known as a happy-go-lucky god either as you may encounter yourself if you try to take rocks and sand from Hawaii (see Lava Rock & Sand Souvenirs).

But that doesn't mean you need to be spooked and avoid this amazing place. Quite the opposite as this is also home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Big Island's most popular attraction which sees over 2.5 million visitors each year. The park was created in 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill forming the park into law. Since then it's also become a World Heritage Site.

Take a trip and stop by the Kilauea Visitor Center, Jaggar Museum, and Thurston Lava Tube (Nahuku). If you want to see flowing lava the current lava flow is known as the Kalapana Lava Flow which also has its own viewing area which is the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area. Check with the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for current conditions and flow locations.