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    The History of Pu'u 'O'o

    Kilauea Volcano is the youngest of all the volcanoes on the Big Island. It is estimated that Kilauea began to form, under the ocean, around 500,000 years ago and most likely became visible above water around 75,000 years ago. Kilauea has been constantly active since it formed and is one of the world's most active volcanoes.

    Over the centuries Kilauea has erupted from its summit and from two rift zones, with the majority of the eruptions coming from the summit.

    Mark Twain experienced the Kilauea caldera filled with liquid lava and wrote many things about the wonders of the volcano. Since his time Kilauea has erupted from a variety of craters at the summit (such as the 1959 eruption of Kilauea Iki) and flows have come from various places on the volcano all the way up to present day.

    In 1983 lava started fountaining at what is now the Pu'u 'O'o vent, on the North East side of Kilauea and has had continuous eruptions ever since except for a 5 year period starting in 1986 where the eruption point shifted 2 miles down the east rift zone and then shifted back to the vent in 1992.

    The Pu'u 'O'o vent is about 10 miles from the ocean at an altitude of about 3,000 ft. The lava pouring from the vent has a tendency to head for the ocean through a series of lava tubes. When the lava tubes become blocked, or shift, the lava works its way to the surface and can be seen as surface flows. Surface flows from Pu'u 'O'o entered the Royal Gardens Subdivision in 1983 and in the course of a year destroyed 16 houses.

    In 1986 the vent shifted to Kupaianaha, about 2 miles north east of Pu'u 'O'o and by November of that year flows eventually reached the ocean near the town of Kalapana destroying 14 homes. For three years the flows completely destroyed all the houses and buildings in the Kalapana area as well as covering several sacred ponds and temples and extending a once beautiful beach area another 3/4 miles out to the ocean.

    By 1992 the Kupaianaha had died and the active eruption returned to Pu'u 'O'o and has continued from that vent ever since. It is estimated that between 1983 and 2001 that over 65 square miles of land have been covered by lava from the Pu'u 'O'o and Kupaianaha vents with over 538 acres of brand new land (built into the ocean) forming. Since Pu'u 'O'o formed it is estimated that over 2.1 million cubic meters of lava has flowed from the vent.

    Pu'u 'O'o continues to erupt today. Most of the time the eruption is visible to visitors within a mile or two hike. To get an idea as to what the volcano is doing today visit our Current Activity Pages.

    Closeup of Pu'u 'O'o vent from a helicopter.

    In the huge Kilauea Summit caldera itself site Halema'uma'u Crater. On March 19, 2008, a vent opened in the crater causing a portion of Crater Rim Drive to be closed. A recent (Apr 27, 2013) USGS erruption update states the following about the vent:

    The summit lava lake is within an ~160 m (520 ft) diameter cylindrical vent with nearly vertical sides inset within the east wall and floor of Halema'uma'u Crater. Its level has varied from about 25 m to more than 200 m (out of sight) below the floor of Halema'uma'u Crater. The vent has been mostly active since opening with a small explosive event on March 19, 2008. The surface level of the lava lake has remained mostly below the inner ledge (~31 m or 100 ft below the floor of Halema'uma'u Crater on October 29, 2012) and has risen above and flooded the ledge in October, 2012, and January, 2013 before receding to greater depths. The lake level responds to summit tilt changes with the lake receding during deflation and rising during inflation.

    Halemau'mau Vent Overlook Thermal Webcam

    Chasing Lava: A Geologist's Adventures at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

    Hawai'i's Volcanos: Legends and Facts

    Hawai'i Volcano Watch: A Pictorial History, 1779-1991

    Mauna Loa: World's Largest Active Volcano

    Hawai'i's Kilauea Volcano: The Flow to the Sea


    Volcano - Fountains of Fire

    Lava Flows and Lava Tubes

    2003 Eruption Update: A Firsthand Account of the Current Eruption of Kilauea Volcano

    2004 Eruption Update: A Firsthand Account of the Current Eruption of Kilauea Volcano

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    All images and content, unless otherwise indicated, are © 2004-2022 InstantHawaii / David Cook
    Nene photo in top graphics by Brenda Zaun