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K?lauea, One Year Later: Volcanic Hazards Remain A Threat

U.S. Geological Survey

This Friday makes a year since K?lauea erupted, sending lava into residential communities on Hawai?i Island. The event displaced about 2,000 people and claimed more than 700 homes in the Puna area of the Big Island. Many of the residents are still recovering. Among them are the scientists who monitor the volcano that could rumble to life at any time.



Geophysicist Ingrid Johanson is still adjusting to life after the eruption. She and fellow scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey Hawai’ian Volcano Observatory abandoned their Kilauea Summit headquarters last summer because of earthquakes and ash. 

Credit Ken Lund / Flickr
The former headquarters of the USGS Hawai?ian Volcano Observatory located at the K?lauea Summit inside the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Eruption-related activity at the summit forced HVO staff to evacuate last summer. They are now scattered throughout three separate locations on the east side of Hawai'i Island.

“Honestly, this period has been really tough for us,” said Johanson. “We're a relatively small staff and we’re used to interacting with each other very closely.” 

The observatory is known worldwide as a leader in the study of active volcanoes. Johanson and her crew have been monitoring K?lauea's volcanic activity from different locations since the eruption. 



Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
Johanson and several other HVO scientists and staff work out of the old Customs building near the Hilo Harbor in Keaukaha.

“So Kilauea is still adjusting to all the changes that happened this past summer,” said Johanson. “This was a huge event. In a way, the volcano is still recovering.” 


Last year on May 3, lava began spewing from a four-mile long fissure system on K?lauea’s eastern flank. Pressure that built up at the summit forced magma down into Puna. 

Credit U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Geological Survey
During an overflight last May, HVO scientists observed a very active fissure 20 from Hawai'i's K?lauea Volcano. Lava flows from a line of low fountains were moving toward the ocean.


“We saw the collapses at the summit, very much related to the eruption out in the lower east rift zone,” said Johanson. “So that we really need to consider the entire system of the volcano in making any type of forecasts about what might happen into the future.” 


So could K?lauea erupt again?


Credit U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Geological Survey
Johanson levels a tripod during a routine survey of Kilauea's East Rift Zone.



Johanson said scientists are seeing new magma refill volcanic chambers in the East Rift Zone. She said while there is no imminent threat, the fresh bed of lava serves as a reminder of the hazard posed by living on an active volcano.   


“This summer’s eruption didn’t change the hazard associated with each of those flow zones,” said Johanson. “So people should continue to really consider those really seriously when making long-term plans.” 

Coming Up: Later this week, we take a look at how people affected by the eruption in Puna are trying to recover their lives.

Previous Coverage: From what did and did not cause the eruption to the lingering psychological effects of the event.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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