After a stunning increase in seismic activity an an apparent drop in the lava lake at the summit of Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano within the national park, researchers and seismologists in Hawaii are concerned that pressure in the volcano is continuing to change-and are sounding what appears to be an indefinite alarm until more can be determined. In the last two days alone, researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have identified small earthquakes at the highest rate to date, setting a new record at one earthquake every couple of minutes. And with the seismic changes, researchers with the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory are hoping that a few changes can help save lives in the event that an eruption could occur.
"Activity at the summit of Kilauea Volcano continues to change, as shown by a pronounced drop in the level of the lava lake within Halema'uma'u Crater, a change in the summit area deformation pattern, and the concentrated earthquake activity in the southern part of the caldera and upper Southwest Rift Zone" spokespersons with the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said in a recent press release. "[The USGS] reviews recent observations and briefly summarizes what might be expected next at Kilauea."
Over the past two days seismologists and other researchers with the USGS have noted drastic changes in the flow of lava at the rim of Overlook Crater (the summit's vent), and have seen great changes in the deformation of the summit and the tilt of its surface. They believe that these changes at the summit of Kilauea suggest that magma from within the volcano has now moved into a shallow area beneath the southern region of the caldera and the upper Southwest Rift Zone. Though researchers have no way of definitively predicting the outcome of this recent activity, the USGS believe that one of three possible scenarios could come to pass in the weeks to come.
"1. Magma continues to accumulate in the southern part of Kilauea's summit caldera and upper SWRZ at shallow depths, but then stops with no eruption.
2. Magma continues to accumulate in the southern part of the caldera at shallow depths and leads to a rapid intrusion into the Southwest Rift Zone. Such an intrusion could remain within the rift zone or erupt along the rift zone. A rift zone intrusion would be indicated by a swarm of shallow earthquakes, seismic tremor, and large, rapid changes in the deformation of the ground surface.
3. Magma continues to accumulate in the southern part of the caldera, rises toward the surface, and erupts in the upper SWRZ and/or in the caldera. With this scenario, we would expect to see even stronger earthquake activity and/or seismic tremor in the southern part of the caldera, as well as ground cracks."
But it will likely be weeks or months before the fate of the volcano comes to light.
"The overall evolution of unrest in Kilauea's summit area and upper rift zones in the coming weeks to months is uncertain" spokespersons with the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory say. "The magma storage system within Kilauea is highly pressurized at this time, and future changes in the location of unrest, and the potential for eruption could unfold quickly (in days to hours)."