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The 2018 Kilauea Eruption
The 2018 Kilauea Eruption
Kilauea is an active shield volcano set on the big island of Hawaii. It is the most active
volcano of the five volcanoes situated on the island. Geologically, Kilauea is a result of the pacific
tectonic plate moving over the Hawaiian hotspot in the earth’s mantle. The volcano rises 1,227
meters above sea level. Although the volcano has erupted several times before, the eruption on
May 3, 2018, was one of the major eruptions recorded. The volcano erupted hours after an
earthquake of -5.0 magnitude hit the island (Bagley, 2018). The eruption spewed lava into
residential subdivisions in the Puna district of the Big Island, prompting mandatory evacuations
of the nearby residential estates. The 2018 eruption had a major impact on the economy and
tourism to the island.
Sub-topic 1: Role of Geological activities in the formation of the Kilauea volcanic eruptions.
Hawaii has since history, been the site for numerous volcanic eruptions. The Island itself
is as a result of volcanic activity taking place in the pacific. The history of volcanic eruptions in
the islands can be traced long before the Europeans and Americans made contact with the native
residents. Native Hawaiian oral traditions record the extraordinary history of the eruptions of
Kilauea long before American and European missionaries wrote about it in their journals (Bagley,
2018). The current ongoing eruption cycle can be traced back to 3rd January 1983 when lava
fountains built a cinder and spatter cone 255meters high. At the time, eruptions were frequent and
short and produced thick chunky lava flows that usually cooled and halted before reaching the
coast (Bagley, 2018). The lava flow from Kilauea at times has managed to reach the coast leaving
massive damage along its path. In addition to the destructive eruption of 2018 similar levels of
damage was recorded in March 1990. According to Bagley, (2018), the eruption of March 1990
was one of the most destructive. Over that summer, 100 homes, a church, and a store were buried
beneath 15 to 24 Meters of lava. Understanding the geological forces that lie beneath Kilauea
eruptions, would provide a reasonable explanation for the 2018 eruption.
Most volcanoes are found at the boundaries of Earth’s tectonic plates. Plate tectonic theory
was coined in the 1960s to explain how the outer layers of the earth move and deform. Since then,
the plate tectonic theory has been used to predict and explain most geological events occurring
globally (Nelson, 2015). The movement of tectonic plates on the earth’s mantle is a major cause
for volcanic activities. While continents appear to drift, they do so as they are part of larger plates
moving horizontally on the upper mantle (Nelson, 2015). The plates are generally rigid with some
ability to flex. Kowalski, (2015) notes that moving of the plates can trigger huge impacts with the
most action being concentrated at the edges. The collision of plates gives rise to mountains at the
edges as volcanoes form where plates slide beneath each other. Plates moving away from each
other causes faults and volcanoes as the magma beneath is exposed. While most volcanic activities
take place at the tectonic boundaries, the Hawaii region sits in the middle of the Pacific plate away
from the action at the boundaries (Bagley, 2018). This phenomenon led to more research on the
activities leading to volcanic activities in the region.
A good explanation of the resulting volcanic action in Hawaii would be the existence of
hotspots. Nelson, (2015), describes hotspots as areas where rising plumes of hot mantle reach the
surface. These locations are usually far from plate boundaries. Volcanic ocean islands generally
form on these swells (Royden et al, 2020). A volcano is usually active when above these hotspots.
Plate motion, however, results in the volcano moving away from the plume leading to the
extinction of the volcano (Nelson, 2015). The pacific plate is always moving northwestwards at
the rate of a few centimeters per year. This constant movement of the pacific plate over a local
hotspot has produced a series of islands one after another the result being a chain of islands that
we know today as Hawaii (Derrick, 2021). The existence of a hotspot under the islands could
provide an explanation as to the reason why volcanic eruptions in Hawaii are constantly erupting.
The 2018 eruption of the Kilauea volcano was a result of the activities that were taking
place on the hotspots underground. Although other major factors were also at play, the basic form
of the volcanic activity is easily explainable through the hotspot theory. Being in a direct line above
a very active hotspot, the Kilauea has been erupting in a very consistent manner. The volcano
occasionally releases clouds of steam and Sulphur dioxide creating volcanic smog ‘vog’ and acidic
rain in the big island of Hawaii. The release of toxic gases and acid rain have been responsible for
breathing complications and damage to crops, buildings, and metal.
Sub-topic 2: Factors behind the massive 2018 Kilauea volcanic eruption.
There have been various factors that have been associated with the 2018 Kilauea volcanic
eruption. Several propositions have been suggested to explain the volcanic activities of 2018. The
May eruption was preceded by months of intense activity. These activities preceding the main
eruption gave researchers time to study the eruption closely. While most basaltic explosive
eruptions intensify abruptly, allowing little time for documentation of the process, Fissure 8 of the
Kilauea eruption erupted in four episodes (Houghton et al, 2021). The eruption, therefore, enabled
a detailed study that gives insight into what activities led to the eruption. The eruption was also
accompanied by a remarkable and periodic succession of collapses in the summit region. Between
May and August 2018, the eruption and collapse sequence included 54 earthquakes observed
worldwide and over 45,000 intervening earthquakes (Alvizuri et al, 2021). Heavy precipitation
and magma pressure are some of the reasons given explaining the massive eruption.
The build-up of pressure in the magma chambers has been a major explanation behind
volcanic eruptions. According to Patrick et al, (2020), intrusions and eruptions at Kilauea are
frequently preceded by an increase in magma pressure. Kilauea’s magma system began to
pressurize rapidly from March to April 2018. Magma pressurization during that period was shown
by inflation, rising lava lake levels, and increasing shallow summit and upper East Rift Zone
earthquakes (Patrick et al, 2021). Although lacking clear evidence for an increase in deep magma
supply in 2018, Kilauea’s shallow magma system is known to pressurize in response to increases
in Magma supply from deep magmatic systems. Patrick et al, (2020), explains that Kilauea’s
magma system was under unusual pressure before the 2018 eruption. By 2018, data from tilt and
GPS suggested the system was at its highest level of pressurization in at least 20 years. The
increased pressure would have a role in the final eruption of the volcano.
Prior to the eruption, the region of Hawaii had experienced months of heavy precipitation.
A study by NASA points out that sometimes heavy rainfall in the months preceding the eruption
serves as a factor for eruption (Reiny, 2020). Amelung & Farquharson, (2020), suggest that
immediately before and during the eruption, infiltration of rainfall into the Kilauea Volcano subsurface increased pore pressure to its highest pressure in almost fifty years. Changes in pore
pressure led to the weakening and mechanical failure of the edifice prompting an opportunistic
dyke formation facilitating the eruption (Amelung & Farquharson, 2020). Rainfall infiltration has
been linked previously to small steam explosions and volcanic earthquakes. Kilauea eruption was
the first-time scientists attributed months of above-average rainfall to explain magmatic processes
more than a mile below the surface (Reiny, 2020).
The summit region of the Kilauea volcano collapsed as a result of the eruption. According
to Alvizuri et al, (2021), the 2018 flank eruption and caldera collapse of the Kilauea is
characterized by inflationary ground deformation starting mid-March 2018. On May 1st, 2018, the
Kilauea summit region began to deflate and lava lake levels in Halema’uma’u began to drop. The
drop in the lake levels resulted in massive earthquakes as deflation of the Kilauea summit
accelerated. The lava lake levels had dropped by three hundred meters at the end of May 10
(Alvizuri et al, 2021). The summit began to subside in episodic, almost daily patterns with the
crater floor dropping by several meters during each episode. The last collapse event was recorded
on 2nd August 2018. The collapse of the summit was a major contributor to the seismic activities
recorded during the eruption event. Anderson et al, (2019), explain that volcanic caldera collapses
can be highly destructive and can create prominent topographic features. The eruption and
consecutive collapse of the summit led to a series of both strong and weak earthquakes that added
to the magnitude of damage caused by the eruption.
Sub-topic 3: Environmental impact of the 2018 Kilauea eruption.
Volcanic eruptions are known to create new topographical features such as crater lakes and
masses in their path. However, volcanic eruptions often end up wiping out everything in their path.
Volcanic eruptions also emit vast amounts of Sulphur dioxide and ash into the air capable of
resulting in acidic rain. The gases and ash emitted during volcanic eruptions impact air quality and
the ecosystem. During the 2018 Kilauea eruption, there was a development of and evaluation to
combine satellite Sulphur dioxide detection and chemical transport modeling. These efforts were
to assess the impact of the eruption on air quality over Hawaii (Tang et al, 2020). Long-lasting
eruptions at the summit of Kilauea have provided a suitable testing ground for novel gas
measurement techniques (Tamar, et al 2018). The deterioration in the quality of air as a result of
the eruptions has resulted in breathing complications among the residents of the area. Research
has shown that one standard deviation increase in particulate pollution leads to a 23-36% increase
in expenditures on emergency room visits for pulmonary-related outcomes (Timothy et al, 2018).
Acidic rain has accelerated corrosion and damage of buildings and metal in the region.
The eruption has not only caused air pollution issues but has also resulted in the loss of
habitat. Kerr, (2018) points out that those people who lived near the lava flows watched as forests,
fruit trees, flowers and ferns were burned down. The forest was replaced by rough and barren rock.
The eruption led to the paving of tide pools and coral gardens and boiled a four-hundred-year-old
lake until it evaporated. The destruction of natural habitat significantly reduces the number of wild
animals that live in the habitat.
The eruption of Kilauea in 2018 was devastating especially to the communities living around it.
Property and habitats were destroyed by the flowing lava. However, the eruption provided a
platform with which researchers were able to study deeply the processes and effects of volcanic
activities. A lot of information was gathered on the eruption that could help us understand the
future of volcanic activities in our planet.
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periodic, migrating seismicity during the 2018 summit collapse at Kilauea caldera. Earth
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Anderson, K. R., Johanson, I. A., Patrick, M. R., Gu, M., Segall, P., Poland, M. P., MontgomeryBrown, E. K., &Miklius, A. (2019). Magma reservoir failure and the onset of caldera
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Nelson. S. A. (2015). Continental Drift, Sea Floor Spreading and Plate Tectonics
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Tang, Y. Tong, D. Yang, K. Lee, P. Baker, B. Crawford, A. Luke, W. Stein, A. Campbell, P.
Ring, A. Flynn, J. Wang, Y. Mcqueen, J. Pan, L. Huang, J. Stajner, I. (2020). Air quality impacts
of the 2018 Mt. Kilauea Volcano eruption in Hawaii: A regional chemical transport model study
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