The First Few Hours

Watching the recent and repeated eruptions in the Kilauea caldera has made an interesting bit of info clear… The first few hours are the most spectacular.

Erupting lava in the first hours of the September 2023 eruption of Kilauea
Erupting lava in the first hours of the September 2023 eruption of Kilauea

Months of inflation Kilauea had stored large quanities of gas and built up a considerable amount of pressure, enough pressure to lift the megatons of rock above the magma chamber and cause the entire summit region to swell outwards.

Beween eruptions USGS geologists and armchair vulcanologists like myself keep an eye on the tiltmeters as the pressure in the volcano builds, awaiting the time that accumulating magma and increased pressure bursts through the overlying rock to begin a new eruptive cycle.

At 15:13 HST Sunday afternoon that moment came.

After a sharp increase of seismic activity lava burst onto the surface in a tall lava fountain just east of the lava lake built up during previous summit eruptions. Within minutes additional fountains opened along a fissure running from the lava lake almost a mile eastwards acoss the down dropped block that had subsided a few hundred feet during the 2108 caldera collapse.

About 20 minutes later I found out about the eruption through social media. About half an hour after that I was on the road across island. A quick shower, a few minutes gathering camera gear and memory cards, a jacket and a thermos of hot tea and I was ready for an evening of eruption photography.

The last minute cross island run was so worth it.

Photographing the September 2023 eruption at Kilauea

This is the most spectacular eruption I had seen, with the possible exception of the 2018 eruption that I tend to cross off the list as it was also so destructive. This eruption, confined to the caldera in the park can be enjoyed without second throughts.

Six larger fountians of lava surrounded by dozens, upon dozens of smaller spouts, all spread long almost a mile long fissue. Everywhere I aimed the telephoto there was a scene worth photographing. I spent hours panning back and forth taking stills and short segments of video.

The camera and large lens tends to attract attention, the scene on the viewfinder at high magnification is impressive. One lady took a video of the back of my camera, the view so much better than she could get with her phone.

A crowd watches the September 2023 eruption at Kilauea Caldera
A crowd watches the September 2023 eruption at Kilauea Caldera

There were quite a few foreign tourists, I chatted with a group from France, another couple from Germany. The tourists I spoke with were realizing their extraordinary luck at being here for the start of a new eruption. One couple had spent all day touring the park just to hear about the eruption while eating a meal in town, rushing back to the crater to enjoy the spectacle.

True to the observation of the first few hours, into the night this latest eruption settled down as the first rush of escaping gas has been exhausted, the lava fountains have dwindled and the effusion rate rate has lessend. Today’s USGS reports discuss a diminished, while still very active eruption. How long will this one last?

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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