Magma Supply Rate Controls Vigor (And Longevity) of Kīlauea’s Ongoing East Rift Zone Eruption
Abstract:Since 1983, Kīlauea Volcano, Hawai‘i, has erupted almost continuously from vents on the East Rift Zone—at 32 years and counting, this is the longest-duration eruption in the past 500 years. Although forecasting the onset of eruptive activity using geophysical, geochemical, and geological monitoring has been demonstrated repeatedly at Kīlauea and elsewhere, little progress has been made in forecasting an eruption’s waning or end, particularly in the case of long-lived eruptions. This is especially important at Kīlauea for at least two reasons: (1) caldera formation at the end of another decades-long eruption, in the 15th century, raises the possibility of a link between eruption duration and caldera formation; and (2) long-lived eruptions can have an enduring effect on local population and infrastructure, as demonstrated by the repeated destruction of property by Kīlauea’s ongoing rift zone eruption.
Data from the past 15 years indicate that the magma supply rate to Kīlauea is an important control on eruptive activity. Joint inversions of geophysical, geochemical, and geological observations demonstrate that in 2006 the supply rate was nearly double that of 2000-2001, resulting in an increase in lava discharge, summit inflation, and the formation of new eruptive vents. In contrast, the magma supply during 2012, and likely through 2014, was less than that of 2000-2001. This lower supply rate was associated with a lower lava discharge and may have played a role in the stalling of lava flows above population centers in the Puna District during 2014–2015. Heightened eruptive vigor may be expected if magma supply increases in the future; however, a further decrease in supply rate—which is likely already below the long-term average—may result in cessation of the eruption. Multidisciplinary monitoring, and particularly tracking of CO2 emissions and surface deformation, should be able to detect changes in supply rate before they are strongly manifested at the surface.