Categorized | Featured, Sci-Tech, Volcano

Kilauea’s East Rift Zone Eruption: 29 years and counting

On March 6, 2011, a spectacular fissure eruption between Pu‘u O'o and Napau Crater on Kilauea’s east rift zone produced lava flows that poured into a pre-existing ground crack and advanced through an ohia forest. For scale, USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists (lower right) can be seen walking toward the flow. (Photo courtesy of Tim Orr | USGS)


January 3, 2012 marks the 29th anniversary of Kilauea’s ongoing east rift zone eruption. This eruption, particularly events that occurred during the past year, will be the topic of the Tuesday, Jan. 3 “After Dark in the Park” program in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Tim Orr, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, will review the eruption, focusing on highlights from Kilauea’s 2011 activity.

The program begins at 7 p.m. at the park’s Kilauea Visitor Center Auditorium. Park entrance fees apply.

The eruption began just after midnight on January 3, 1983, with lava erupting to the surface along several fissures. By June 1983, the eruption was focused at a single vent. Over the next three years, lava fountains up to 1,500 feet high roared from the vent 44 times, building a cinder-and-spatter cone named Pu‘u ‘O‘o.

In July 1986, the eruption shifted to Kupaianaha, a new vent farther down the east rift zone. Lava poured from this vent nearly continuously for almost six years, burning and burying Kilauea’s south flank, including the communities of Kapa‘ahu and Kalapana, in 1986 and 1990, respectively.

Early in 1992, the eruption returned to vents on the flanks of Pu‘u ‘O‘o. Over the next 18 years, lava flowed down the slopes of Kilauea, inundating areas within and outside of Hawaii Volcanoes National park and often reaching the sea.

During the past year, Kilauea’s ongoing east rift zone eruption has included two spectacular fissure eruptions, a dramatic outbreak of lava from the west flank of Pu‘u ‘O‘o, and, on Dec. 9, 2011, a new ocean entry USGS scientists named West Kailiili — the first ocean entry within the boundaries of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park since 2009.

Since the eruption began in 1983, lava flows have buried 48 square miles of public and private land, destroying vast tracts of native forest, nine miles of highway, and 213 structures, including homes, a church, and the Wahaula Visitor Center in the park.

While Kilauea’s current east rift zone eruption has been its most destructive event in recent history, the eruption has also been constructive. Molten lava flowing into the sea has added about 500 acres of new land to Hawaii Island.

This presentation is one of many talks, guided hikes, and other programs offered by the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as part of Hawaii Island’s third annual Volcano Awareness Month in January.

For more information about this talk, call 985-6011.

For a complete schedule of Volcano Awareness Month events, call 967-8844 or visit the HVO Web site at

2 Responses to “Kilauea’s East Rift Zone Eruption: 29 years and counting”

  1. rory sweeney says:

    your comment in the above article dated Thursday 29th Dec relating to the attached phot states “On March 6, 2011, a spectacular fissure eruption between Pu‘u O’o and Napau Crater on Kilauea’s …” yet on investigating through Google Maps where Napau Crater and Kilauea are, I find them on the island of Hawaii (the big island), and Kauai respectively. How can the lava flow be stretching all the way from Kauai to the Big island ? or am I missing something in the translation ?

    • Baron says:

      Both Napau Crater and Kilauea Volcano are on the Big Island. In Hawaii there are often more than one place with the same name. For instance there is a Kailua and Waimea on both Oahu and Hawaii Island (and Waimea, Kauai).

      The names Kailua-Kona and Kamuela aren’t the names of the towns on the Big Island, they’re the names of the Post Offices so they don’t get them mixed-up with the ones on Oahu.

      If you scroll around the map on this page to the right you’ll see where Napau Crater is:


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