Geologists Testing Water From New Hawaii Volcano Crater Lake

Oct 30, 2019

Federal geologists are examining samples of water from a growing pond in a Hawaii volcano's crater.

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory used a drone to collect water samples from a growing lake in Kilauea volcano's crater, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Wednesday.

They will test the water's chemistry to find out more about its origin and how much it is interacting with volcanic gases that comes from deep magma.

Geologists confirmed the presence of the water in the bottom of Halemaumau crater this summer. It is the first time in recorded history that water has appeared in the crater.

Kilauea had a major eruption last year that caused the collapse of the crater to below the water table.

Patricia Nadeau, a research geologist with HVO, said there has always been ground water near the Kilauea summit but it had never before reached the surface.

"Now we have this deeper crater bottom that is lower than where we knew the ground water level to be based on the well," Nadeau said.

Besides confirming that the water is not rain pooling in the crater, its composition can also tell researchers more about what's happening deep underground where the volcano's magma is.

"It also gives us an indication of how much the water is interacting with the volcanic gases coming from the deeper magma," Nadeau said. Sulfur dioxide emissions "are a proxy for volcanic activity," she added.

Nadeau said other volcanic observatories with crater lakes monitor water chemistry changes through time to see if any differences coincide with changes in volcanic activity, but researchers have not gotten to that point with Kilauea's new lake.

Just getting the sample was difficult because of the steep, unstable ground in the crater as well as potentially harmful volcanic gases in the area.

Researchers were "happy to get the first sample," Nadeau said.