Changes Aren’t Permanent but Change Is: Part 1 of 2… by Brad Marks

In a bit of a surprise, Brad has managed to bring us a two-part post. I have no idea how he had time to crank out not one, but TWO posts with all our new Intrigued employee required training that is just short of 30 online classes, two instruction led workshops and a week long retreat. Included in this curriculum: Information Security, Data Privacy, GDPR, Data Classification, Industrial Waste Management, Prohibitive Harassment (unless target is a lawyer), Insider Trading, Office Ethics: How Not to Embarrass Your Boss in Public (there are some Twitter employees that would benefit from our 2 day course), Corporate Assets Usage (jet, carpool, yacht, big wheel, unicycle, pogo stick, jacuzzi), Lawyer Hell Week (first rule of Hell Week, don’t talk about Hell Week), Performance Reviews, Incentive Compensation (I see Brad already added another “craptastic” check in this post!), Intrigued Birding Rules (link here), a complete viewing of the Monty Python comedy series and Field Safety 101 which includes a very useful workshop on how to properly swing (and if needed avoid) a tripod to escape a wild animal attack – hint, you do not use it on the animal. I’m exhausted just thinking about the workload. While I head off for some rest and a fruity drink with an umbrella in it, enjoy part 1 of Brad’s very “hot” topic.

Take it away Brad….

By now you may have noticed a few guest posts about birds and turtles on the Hawaiian Islands.  We have been fortunate to have been able to visit the islands several (more than a few, less than many) times.  We’ve also visited Volcanoes National Park each time we are on the Big Island of Hawai’i.  Who doesn’t like walking around on an active volcano?!  We’ve seen dramatic changes inside Volcanoes National Park.  I’m not talking about new parking stripes, or the remodeled Volcano House.  I’m talking about geological changes that can take thousands or millions of years to occur.  For example, Pikes Peak in Colorado looks pretty much exactly the same as it did 100 years ago, except for the new Visitor Center at the summit and the kitschy shops around its base.  The same could be said about the Kilauea caldera on the Big Island the prior hundred years.  Even Tom Sawyer’s creator, Mark Twain, seemed unimpressed at first with the Kilauea caldera saying it was “a wide level black plain” and that it was like “a large cellar – nothing more”.  Twain was unimpressed until he realized the scale of what he was seeing.  The “place looked a little larger and a little deeper every five minutes” he said.  Since the Halema’uma’u crater appeared in the early 1920’s there have been precious few large-scale changes.  That’s why after reviewing photos from our most recent visit this past August, I realized how much had changed since the prior visit in 2015.  And how much had changed from the visits prior to that.  Here’s my attempt at explaining or illustrating the changes we have witnessed over the 20 years of visiting Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.  (time for a gratuitous volcano photo from 2010)

Hawaiian Volcanoes by Brad Marks

But first a bit of history of volcanoes on the Big Island.  For a visual reference to help explain the next section, please visit the University of Hawai’i at Hilo for a map of the Big Island Volcanoes.


The Big Island of Hawai’i is made up of five current volcanoes (oldest to youngest): 
Kohala (extinct) last erupted 65,000-120,000 years ago.
Mauna Kea (dormant last erupting about 4-6000 years ago) and tallest mountain on Earth when measured from its base on the ocean floor.
Hualalai (active) last erupting about 200 years ago, and will most likely erupt again. Kona coffee plantations cover the slopes.  The current Kailua-Kona airport is built on an 1801 lava flow from Hualalai.
Mauna Loa (active) last eruption April 15, 1984.  It is physically the largest, active or otherwise, volcano on the planet.
Kilauea (active since 1983) currently erupting.

In 1924, lava in the Kilauea caldera drained suddenly.  Circumstances lead to groundwater vaporizing deep beneath the caldera causing a series of violent steam explosions.  The Halema’uma’u crater was created.  Jan and I first saw Halema’uma’u in 2002.  Kilauea is known as the “drive-in” volcano.  I think mostly because its eruptions are normally “oozy” instead of explosive.  At one time Kilauea “oozed” enough lava, per day, to surface a two-lane road 20-miles long.  Halema’uma’u remained the same size and shape for the first 13 years of our visits until 2018.  More on that later.  

To get a feel for the scale and relative position of the caldera and craters, refer to this Map of Kilauea caldera  (credit USGS Halema’uma’u Overflow Map April 28, 2018).

This photo gives you an idea what happens when a little groundwater meets up with a little residual heat.  These are the Steaming Cliffs on the NNW edge of the Kilauea caldera, not very far from the Volcano House hotel.  According to the tour guides, the magma chamber is close enough to the surface to heat the water to steam so it escapes from the rocks.  But it’s not nearly hot enough to melt the overlying rock.  If you get close enough to the steam vents located around the parking lot, the sulphur makes itself known with a rather craptastic smell!

Hawaiian Volcanoes by Brad Marks

I’m going to focus on the Kilauea caldera and its features for this article.  The summit of Kilauea appears to be on the flank of Mauna Loa but is a completely separate plumbing/magma system.  The Kilauea caldera at the summit is a just under 3 miles north to south and just under 2 miles mostly west to east.  (This might be why nene (related story here) fly over the caldera instead of walking around.)  The caldera floor is 600 feet (two football fields or almost two soccer pitches) below the surrounding terrain.  Within the caldera is the Halema’uma’u crater (roughly 2,100 feet by 2,700 feet nearly 280 feet deep from the caldera floor).  The Halema’uma’u crater is considered the home of Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire and Volcanoes. Much has happened to the caldera in the 20 years we have been visiting.  Most don’t get to see changes on a geologic scale like this, and really 20 years is nothing in the big scheme of things.  We have been fortunate enough to see three major changes across our visits.

Hawaiian Volcanoes by Brad Marks

Our first visit was in 2002 with friends from Boston.  They had been to Hawai’i a few times, but this was our first to the Big Island.  At that time the eruption was happening just outside park boundaries with lava free flowing into the sea, for years on end.  That meant the Kilauea summit was relatively quiet.  Oh sure, there were still vents steaming and you could feel the occasional small rumble as magma shifted under the surface.  But no lava was moving on the surface near the caldera.

This photo is from one of our first views of the crater near the Jaggar Museum on Crater Rim Drive.  At that time, you could drive the 10+ miles all the way around the caldera on the Crater Rim Drive.

Hawaiian Volcanoes by Brad Marks

In 2005 we decided to take our daughter Allyson to the Big Island, and of course, to the volcano (we have taken Allyson every time since 2005).  We were able to approach the, then quiet, Halema’uma’u crater edge.  Just off Crater Rim Drive was a small parking area for those that wanted to get up close and personal with the Halema’uma’u crater.  After parking we walked 100 feet to the fence that kept us all from falling or climbing into the crater.  At that time the crater floor was about 3-400 feet below where we were standing.  We had to be somewhat careful on the trail because of the small steam vents poking up all over.  The National Park Service (NPS) stacked small cairns of rocks with signs so visitors would not get burned from the escaping steam.

Hawaiian Volcanoes by Brad Marks

Early morning on March 19, 2008, an explosion created the Overlook crater within Halema’uma’u.  Ground water had been heated by the underlying magma (remember the steaming cliffs above) and had only one way to go: up and out.  Blocks were flung hundreds of feet in all directions.  Damage from the explosion lead to the Halema’uma’u crater viewing area and parking lot being closed to visitors.  The newly formed crater within a crater emitted a very thick plume of toxic gas obscuring every attempt to see inside. 

Hawaiian Volcanoes by Brad Marks

By September lava could be seen rising and falling within the throat of what was named Overlook crater.  For the most part Halema’uma’u looked the same as our prior two visits.  Except now there was a 100-foot wide crater on the floor and near the edge of Halema’uma’u with molten lava bubbling away dozens of yards below the rim edge.  (photo above is from our 2010 visit)

Hawaiian Volcanoes by Brad Marks

During the day, the site was quite a humble reminder that yes indeed we were on an active volcano.  At night we had direct evidence.  The Jaggar Museum officially closed about dusk, but the patio area was left open for viewing.  Many visitors hung around to see the glow from the crater.  But once they saw the pinkish orange glow they took a quick photo with their smart phones for their social media pages and left.  At this point I felt sorry for Jan and Allyson because I wanted to get photos well after dark, and temperatures were dropping very quickly.  Yes, it was the middle of June in the tropics.  But the Jaggar Museum is at 4,000 feet of elevation and gets quite chilly at night.   Once most of the tourists had left, (and truthfully Jan and Allyson were already in the car keeping warm) it was quiet enough to hear the crater belching and hissing from half mile away.  I brought my tripod and cable release because I knew I would have to take long exposure photos to capture the subtle red colors of the lava reflecting off the crater walls.  At this point there were only a handful of visitors left as a night breeze picked up, bringing us more sounds from the Overlook crater.  The best way for me to describe the sound is that it reminded me of sloshing top load washing machine with a heavy load, but a much deeper, almost guttural, sound.

Hawaiian Volcanoes by Brad Marks

Our 2015 visit showed that Halema’uma’u was mostly unchanged, except that Overlook crater had expanded a little bit.  Overlook had also recently (Mother’s Day weekend if I remember correctly) overflowed the Halema’uma’u crater floor to give it a nice smooth black lava coating. 

To this point all of our Halema’uma’u photos were taken from roughly the same location at the Jaggar Museum and Hawai’i Volcano Observatory on Crater Rim Drive.

Mid-spring 2018, all hell breaks loose.  Literally.  But you will have to come back for Part II, coming to a blog near you.

Stay tuned!


Thanks to Jan and Allyson for proof reading, re-reading, and editing.

Mark Twain quotes from:  Mark Twain at Kilauea (link

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