Several of Going to the rim road blog entries are based on students’ web page created by: Lauren Nelson, Steve Anderson, and John Vickers

Pu’u O’o on October 3, 1997. This is the vent at the site where current eruptions are occuring. Pierre

Facts about Kilauea Volcano

Location   19.425 N 155.292 W

Elevation above sea level   4,190 ft

Area 552 mi2 (13.7% of Hawai`i)

Volume 6,000-8,500 mi3

Summit Caldera
The caldera itself has no Hawaiian name other than Kilauea but contains the famous crater, Halema`uma`u; “hale” means house, “ma`uma`u” is a type of fern. Kamapua`a, was a jilted suitor of the goddess Pele, is said to have built a house of ferns over Halema`uma`u to keep Pele from escaping her home and causing eruptions. In the end it failed.

Dimension: 6 x 6 km (outermost faults), 3 x 5 km (main depression)

Depth: 165 m deep

Age: probably several incremental collapses 500-210 years ago

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 skip past bottom navigational bar


Eruption History of the Kilauea Volcano

Kilauea began to form about 300,000-600,000 years ago and it has been erupting ever since. Kilauea rose above the surface of the sea as an island perhaps 50,000-100,000 years ago.

Throughout its life Kilauea has erupted from three main areas, its summit and two rift zones. The high summit of the volcano is a result of more frequent eruptions than other locations on the volcano.

Eruptions along the east rift zone have built a ridge that extends from the summit 125 km and the southwest rift zones have built ridges reaching outward 35 km.

Most eruptions are non-explosive, sending lava flows slowly down slope. As these eruptions continue they gradually build up the volcano and give it its gentle topography. (

Find out more about historical eruptions of Kilauea!

Active Volcanic Eruptions

Kilauea is the youngest volcano on the Island of Hawaii.  Research over the past few decades shows that Kilauea has its own magma-plumbing system, extending to the surface from more than 60 km deep in the earth.

Kilauea caldera was the site of 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 in all, Kilauea ranks among the world’s most active volcanoes and may even be on top of the list.

On January 3, 2003 the ongoing volcanic eruption of Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island turned 20 years old, becoming Earth’s longest- ever recorded eruption in history.

Learn about the hazards of Kilauea!

Diagram by J. Johnson, 2000
The eruption of Kilauea Volcano that began in 1983 continues at the cinder-and-spatter cone of Pu`u `O`o (middle of diagram). Lava erupting from the cone flows through a tube system down Pulama pali about 11 km to the sea (lower right).
On an average day, the volcano puts out several hundred thousand cubic yards of lava. It also causes frequent earthquakes, but many of them are small enough that only a few people feel them. The lava sometimes flows above ground, and sometimes flows below ground in lava tubes. When it reaches the ocean, a steam plume is formed.
See summary of GPS measurements on Kilauea!
The Legend of Pele
According to Hawaiian legends, Hawaii’s Big Island is the home of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire. For many years Pele shaped and formed her new abode, using red-hot lava to create her unique fortress. Early Hawaiians respected and honored Pele, and made offerings to please her or calm her wrath.
Every time an eruption occurs, the local people think that it is a way of Pele giving a gift. The lava that flows out of the eruption forms new land. The people leave offerings such as fruit, flowers, and fish to thank her for her generosity.
Pele’s hair
Thin strands of volcanic glass drawn out from molten lava are called Pele’s hair. One strand has a diameter of less than 0.5 mm, and may be 2 m long. They are formed by the stretching or blowing-out of molten basaltic glass from lava, usually from lava fountains,  Pele’s hair is often carried high into the air during fountaining, and wind can blow the glass threads several tens of kilometers from a vent.

Photograph of Pele’s Hair Photograph by D.W. Peterson on 27 March 1984
Pele’s tears
Small bits of molten lava in fountains can cool quickly and solidify into glass particles shaped like spheres or tear drops called Pele’s tears, They are jet black in color and are often found on one end of a strand of Pele’s hair.

Photograph of Pele’s Tears Photograph by J.D. Griggs in November 198

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