A view of Halemaumau Crater at dusk before the 2018 eruption.

Photo By Nstanev/Thinkstock

Is this the end of Halemaumau Crater's lava lake?

The lava lake, a popular viewing site, has steadily been draining at the summit.

Home to Hawaii’s fire goddess Pele, Halemaumau (“House of the Amau Fern”), the pit crater inside the large Kilauea Caldera, has gone through some changes recently. In a series of events that started with the collapse of Puu Oo’s crater floor on April 30, Halemaumau Crater’s lava lake has been receding. On Sunday, May 6, it was recorded that the lava lake dropped 722 feet, and daily summit observations from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) report that it continues to drop daily since then.

The dramatic sinking of the lava lake inside the crater. 
Photo courtesy: USGS

“The Halemaumau lake started to respond and recede as the material was leaving the summit reservoir and also going down into the rift zone. We see that visually, the lava lake is going down, but our instruments are also recording the passage of that molten material in the rift zone,” said Tina Neal, scientist-in-charge for USGS.

Could this mean the end of late nights viewing the red, fiery glow emanating from inside Halemaumau Crater at the Jaggar Museum’s Overlook? The answer, simply, is that no one knows for sure.

“This current trend, if it continues, could be the beginning of a large change in this whole eruption. It may be that Halemaumau drains out of sight and the lava lake activity is pau (finished) and things are going to concentrate on the Lower East Rift Zone,” says Neal.

“If the Lower East Rift Zone peters out and lava does not return to Puu Oo, it’s very possible that lava could again re-pressurize the summit system and the lake could rise again. So that is a possibility, but we really just don’t know.”

The explosive eruption column from Halemaumau Crater on May 18, 1924. This photo was taken from the northwest rim of Kilauea summit.
Photo courtesy: USGS

The lava draining from Halemaumau Crater can be compared to the last time it drained in 1924, and the lava fell below the water table, causing earthquakes, explosions and crater collapses. That lasted for two weeks, and the lake disappeared for 85 years before returning to the summit. Now, it’s too soon to tell if an explosive event similar to that one will occur, or if it will even fall below the water table this time, but scientists are actively watching as the current volcanic events continue to unfold.

Diagram courtesy: USGS