Water inside Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano: a trigger off an explosive eruption?

For the first time in recorded history, a pond of water has been discovered inside the summit crater of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, a development that could signal a shift to a more explosive phase of future eruptions. 

Janet Babb, a geologist with the Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said: “Until we have a better understanding of where the water is coming from, it’s difficult to forecast what could happen next”.

One possibility is that lava could slowly heat up the groundwater and eventually create a new lava lake. Lava could also interact with the water table and cause explosive eruptions.

Kilauea alternates between explosive and effusive (slower, steady lava flows) periods, but with the added presence of water, the next explosive period could result in a massive collapse of the caldera floor.

“Kīlauea remains an active volcano, and it will erupt again,” the Geological Survey wrote in a report July 31. “Although we expect clear signs prior to the next eruption, the time frame of warning may be short.”

USGS scientist emeritus Don Swanson said that while researchers have never observed water on the caldera floor before, there are Native Hawaiian chants that describe the presence of ponds appearing just before explosive events. “It’s really not scientific evidence but it nonetheless enhances the interpretation”.

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