The Halemaumau crater at the top was 280 feet deep three months ago. It is now more than 1,500 feet deep in spots.
Hawaii Island’s Kilauea volcano has simmered down recently, with raging rivers of lava down to a trickle this week. For visitors on boat and helicopter tours, the dramatic scenes of the last few weeks are gone, but spectacular eruptions could return at any moment.
“It is common for eruptions to wax and wane or pause completely,” the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaii Volcano Observatory update said Tuesday afternoon.
Aerial photos taken Monday showed bubbling molten rock inside the cone at an opening in the surface called Fissure 8. But the channel of red-hot lava that had been racing to the sea had all but disappeared.
“A return to high levels of lava discharge or new outbreaks in the area of active fissures could occur at any time,” the report said.
In mid-July, geologists said current volcanic activity, which has destroyed more than 700 structures and forced the closure of two-thirds of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, could continue for a year or two. The prediction was based on the behavior of past eruptions.
More than 18,000 earthquakes have struck the park in the last 30 days, causing significant changes to the Halemaumau Crater at the volcano’s summit.
The crater’s size has more than quadrupled as it collapses inward because of seismic activity and massive flows of magma being purged through cracks in the Earth’s surface. The crater, which was 280 feet deep just three months ago, is now more than 1,500 feet deep in spots.
The park’s Jaggar Museum & Overlook, located near the rim of the crater, have been off-limits since the May 11 closure. New photos show cracks in the building and outside deck, as well as crumbling walls at the edge of the overlook. It is unknown whether the museum and overlook will ever reopen.
“Right now, the only certainty is uncertainty,” park superintendent Cindy Orlando said in a prepared statement.
Earthquakes also have created large cracks in roads in and around the park. Along Highway 11, pavement repair work is ongoing, forcing reduced speed limits and, in certain spots, one-lane traffic.
About an hour away, the park’s Kahuku Unit generally has remained open during volcanic activity. It was set to close Wednesday and possibly Thursday in anticipation of potential damage from Hurricane Hector.
When Kahuku is open, rangers take visitors on guided hikes and explain how the land, with its native flora and fauna, sprang back to life after the 1868 eruption of Mauna Loa volcano. It’s generally open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Admission is free.
The volcanic and seismic activity is occurring in a small, relatively remote area. Resorts and other businesses are operating normally throughout the rest of Hawaii Island.