(BIVN) – Scientists gathered for a press conference at the Volcano Golf and Country Club on Saturday attempted to set the record straight in terms of the popular characterization of Kīlauea as a docile shield volcano.
“What I want to do is to present a perspective of the current explosive activity that’s taking place at the summit of Kīlauea, and in order to do that I want to make an explosive statement,” said veteran USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist Don Swanson, “and that is, that Kīlauea is an explosive volcano.”
“It’s taken us a long time to realize that,” Swanson said, “but it turns out that recent research shows that for the past 2,500 years – which is about as far back as we can see – Kīlauea has been in a dominantly explosive period more than half of the time.”
“Right here at this (Volcano Golf) Club house, we are resting on more than a foot of volcanic ash that was deposited between 2,200 years ago and a thousand years ago,” Swanson said. “On top of that foot, there are several inches of ash that were erupted between about about 1500 and 1800. Those were large eruptions… and the series of eruptions lasted a long time. But they demonstrate the explosive character of Kīlauea.”
“I really wanted to put this activity in perspective,” Swanson continued, “because (this latest activity) didn’t come out of the blue. We’ve had a lot of explosions at Kīlauea in the past. The reason that we hadn’t realized that until recently is that for the almost 200 years that Westerners have been in Hawaii, and have kept written records, there were only the 1924 explosions that took place. And so we thought that Kīlauea was normally a docile volcano that erupted lava flows, that can do horrendous damage … but that were not explosive.”
“We now know that that is not the case and that we’re unfortunately living through a proof of that statement,” Swanson said.
Swanson joined other scientists at the press conference in describing the current summit activity. In recent weeks, the level of the summit lava lake has drained away, likely below the water table, and so additional, steam-driven, explosive events are possible at any time. The events could produce minor amounts of ashfall downwind, and volcanic gas emissions at the summit remain high.