Bulletin of Volcanology

, 81:13 | Cite as

A review of controls on lava lake level: insights from Halema‘uma‘u Crater, Kīlauea Volcano

  • Matthew PatrickEmail author
  • Donald Swanson
  • Tim Orr
Review Article


The height of the lava column is a fundamental measure of open-vent volcanic activity, but little continuous long-term data exist to understand this parameter. The recent (2008–2018) lava lake activity at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano provides an opportunity to track and understand the processes that control lava level over timescales ranging from minutes to years. We review recently published data as well as analyze the long-term record of lava level at Kīlauea’s summit during 2009–2017. Longer timescale fluctuations, over days to months, have a strong positive linear correlation with ground deformation, suggesting they reflect pressure changes in the summit magma reservoir. Shorter timescale fluctuations, over minutes to hours, have an inverse relationship with spattering (i.e., outgassing) intensity at the lake surface—increased outgassing lowers the lake level and vice versa. Our analysis of the long-term lava level data thus confirms that lava level at Halema‘uma‘u is controlled by these two types of processes: (1) those related to magma reservoir pressure changes (such as magma supply rate) and (2) shallow outgassing fluctuations (such as gas pistoning). Frequency filtering can isolate pressure- and outgassing-driven components of lava level change. Time series analysis indicates that there was no large, persistent periodicity in the lava level; a minor fortnightly oscillation might be related to Earth tides but was not continuously present. The correlation between lava level and deformation of the summit indicates that the lava lake acts as a reliable “piezometer”; tracking lava level over time may thus provide an indication of flank eruptive potential. We show that long-term interdisciplinary monitoring is necessary to discriminate the processes that control lava level.


Lava lake Volcano deformation Thermal camera Volcano monitoring Kilauea 



HVO staff assisted in the collection of the data in this review. We thank B. Shiro for assistance with earthquake data and I. Johanson, M. Poland and K. Anderson with discussions of the deformation. We thank T. Eriksen (University of Hawai‘i Manoa), Adam LeWinter and David Finnegan (Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab), and Gerald Bawden (USGS) for sharing LIDAR measurements of the lake. L. Desmither and C. Parcheta assisted with laser rangefinder measurements of lake level. Reviews by B. Smets, C. Oppenheimer, and K. Anderson improved the manuscript. We thank B. Smets for added insight regarding Nyiragongo precursors and the importance of rapid lava level rise. This work was supported by the U.S. Geological Survey Volcano Science Center. The use of brand names is for information use only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Geological Survey or federal government.

Supplementary material

445_2019_1268_MOESM1_ESM.docx (303 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 302 kb)


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© This is a U.S. government work and not under copyright protection in the U.S.; foreign copyright protection may apply 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hawaiian Volcano Observatory—U.S. Geological SurveyHawai‘i National ParkUSA
  2. 2.Alaska Volcano Observatory—U.S. Geological SurveyAnchorageUSA

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