Lava lake activity at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano in 2016

Scientific Investigations Report 2018-5008




The ongoing summit eruption at Kīlauea Volcano, Hawai‘i, began in March 2008 with the formation of the Overlook crater, within Halema‘uma‘u Crater. As of late 2016, the Overlook crater contained a large, persistently active lava lake (250 × 190 meters). The accessibility of the lake allows frequent direct observations, and a robust geophysical monitoring network closely tracks subtle changes at the summit. These conditions present one of the best opportunities worldwide for understanding persistent lava lake behavior and the geophysical signals associated with open-vent basaltic eruptions. In this report, we provide a descriptive and visual summary of lava lake activity during 2016, a year consisting of continuous lava lake activity. The lake surface was composed of large black crustal plates separated by narrow incandescent spreading zones. The dominant motion of the surface was normally from north to south, but spattering produced transient disruptions to this steady motion. Spattering in the lake was common, consisting of one or more sites on the lake margin. The Overlook crater was continuously modified by the deposition of spatter (often as a thin veneer) on the crater walls, with frequent collapses of this adhered lava into the lake. Larger collapses, involving lithic material from the crater walls, triggered several small explosive events that deposited bombs and lapilli around the Halema‘uma‘u Crater rim, but these did not threaten public areas. The lava lake level varied over several tens of meters, controlled primarily by changes in summit magma reservoir pressure (in part driven by magma supply rates) and secondarily by fluctuations in spattering and gas release from the lake (commonly involving gas pistoning). The lake emitted a persistent gas plume, normally averaging 1,000–8,000 metric tons per day (t/d) of sulfur dioxide (SO2), as well as a constant fallout of small juvenile and lithic particles, including Pele’s hair and tears. The gas emissions created volcanic air pollution (vog) that affected large areas of the Island of Hawai‘i. The summit eruption has been a major attraction for visitors in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. During 2016, the rising lake levels allowed the lake and its spattering to be more consistently visible from public viewing areas, enhancing the visitor experience. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) closely monitors the summit eruption and keeps emergency managers and the public informed of activity.

Suggested Citation

Patrick, M.R., Orr, T.R., Swanson, D.A., Elias, T., and Shiro, B., 2018, Lava lake activity at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano in 2016: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2018–5008, 58 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Monitoring Methods
  • The Overlook Crater in Halema‘uma‘u Crater
  • Lake Surface
  • Lake Surface Motion
  • Spattering
  • Lava Level Changes
  • Rockfalls and Explosions
  • Tephra
  • Outgassing Plume
  • Volcanic Air Pollution
  • Miscellaneous Observations
  • Public Engagement
  • 2016 Lake Activity in Context
  • Relation to the East Rift Zone Eruption at Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō
  • Comparison with Other Lava Lakes on Earth
  • Conclusions
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
  • Glossary

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Lava lake activity at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano in 2016
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Volcano Science Center
vi, 58 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Kīlauea Volcano
Online Only (Y/N):