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

Howdy folks! Not sure what it is like in your setting, but in our parts – it’s damn cold. As a gauge, my last two training runs have been on the treadmill. Guess what I HATE more than anything else…Christmas commercials before Halloween has arrived, BUT, running on a treadmill is easily second highest on my multi-volume set of things that make my blood “boil”. I enjoy running in the snow, tolerate running in sleet and fight through temps into the teens, however, 20mph winds pushing windchills into the single digits can freeze-“burn” the lungs right out of my chest. Reluctantly, tied on the Summer shoes, cranked up the conveyor belt and caught up on several streaming shows – harder that it sounds since I had to strain to hear over the body constantly nagging “Can we go OUTSIDE now!, how about now, I know what we should do..let’s go out there, please, please, pretty please, you know, real mean train outdoors, the ballet called, they want their tutu back, is that your picture next to the ‘wuss’ entry in the dictionary?!?” My body doesn’t even whine that much during ultra races. In an effort to save my sanity and maybe help push the mercury up (do kids even know what that means anymore?) let’s all toast our toes over lava with the second part of Brad’s post on Hawaiian volcanoes.

Take it away Brad…

Brief recap.  Twenty years spanning vacations to the Big Island.  Halema’uma’u crater relatively stable. Blah Blah Blah.  At the end of our last episode as we left our intrepid volcanic crater in the Spring of 2018, hell was breaking loose.  Literally. 

The first sign that something big was happening in 2018 was on April 30th when the lava in the Overlook crater at the Kilauea summit dropped significantly.  This meant that the magma had rapidly drained away from the summit and, based on the earthquake trail, was moving rapidly to the East Rift Zone.  To help with the scale of the next part of this article, please visit the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) site to see a map of the East Rift Zone.  I’ll wait while you go check out the map (humming a popular game show theme song). Halema’uma’u crater is to the lower left of this graphic. Here’s a re-post from a prior article.  It is a wildlife and adventure blog after all.  This trio was captured flying over the caldera on our last day on the island this year.  Remember, Nene prefer to walk everywhere and do not normally need to fly.  Just goes to show how large the caldera really is. 

Hawaiian Volcanoes by Brad Marks

OK, now we can go onto the next section.

On May 3, 2018 the first fissure opened up in the residential Leilani Estates, located smack dab in the middle of the East Rift Zone.  To get an idea of what the residents of Leilani Estates lived through, check out this eruptive video from the USGS site taken from someone’s back yard on May 5, 2018. (warning for sensitive viewers) Wouldn’t you think you had just descended into Hell on Earth?  (for more photos or videos search the USGS site for photos and videos from the 2018 events).  It wasn’t long before combined flow from the active fissures was up to 200 cubic yards of lava per second, for several weeks, on the 8-mile journey to the ocean. When all was said and done, over 700 homes were lost.  Thirty miles of roads were covered, looking something like this photo take in 2010 from a different unstoppable eruption.

Hawaiian Volcanoes by Brad Marks

The 2018 eruption created 875 acres of new land on the Big Island (only state in the US that is still growing).  Lava from the eruption eventually covered nearly 14 square miles of the island, dozens of feet deep in places.   Thanks to advanced warnings from local officials, not a single human life was lost during this eruption. 

Not one!

Earthquakes caused by the magma movement and the Halema’uma’u crater collapse damaged the Jaggar Museum and the Hawaii Volcano Observatory (HVO), making them off-limits to employees and park visitors.  Sections of Crater Rim Drive as well as the parking lot we used in 2005 were consumed by the newly expanded Halema’uma’u Crater.

The sheer volume of erupted lava left the Halema’uma’u crater floor unsupported.  The crater floor collapsed 1,600 feet at its deepest point and the crater diameter doubled in size.  To get a feel for the impact to the crater visit this page at the National Park Service (NPS) site for Hawai’i Volcanoes. (use the sliders past halfway in their article to get a feel for how much the crater changed) At first, the newly formed crater just sat there, except for the occasional rock slides which caused minor earthquakes.  Before too long ground water began to fill the crater.  In a few weeks, the water lake was 160 feet deep and 300 feet across.  However, the lake didn’t last long.

In December 2021, lava began to rapidly fill the Halema’uma’u crater, evaporating the water lake nearly instantaneously.  The molten lava pool is currently several hundred feet deep and growing. Kilauea is still erupting as of this writing. 

(OK, who wants to see lava?  Who goes to Volcanoes National Park and doesn’t have red lava on their photo list?  We were able to see red lava during the day on a helicopter tour in 2010.)

Hawaiian Volcanoes by Brad Marks

The best way to see a red lava lake is at night.  And the only way to see the lava lake itself, and not just the eerie red glow reflecting off the gas vapors, is to hike about ¾ mile in the dark.  Don’t worry, the volcano left a nicely paved path for most of the way.  We headed down what’s left of Crater Rim Drive from Devastation Trail parking area (opposite the Jaggar Museum on the southeast side of the caldera) to a well-groomed gravel trail leading to the viewing area.  We bundled up and began the hike.  (BTW, get to the parking lot very early to save yourself a mile long hike before you begin your mile long hike.  Or time it so you get to the parking lot a couple of hours after dark when most tourists leave the park) When viewing the lava lake for the first time, we were in awe. 

Hawaiian Volcanoes by Brad Marks

The brain can’t quite comprehend what it’s seeing at first, but slowly the awesome (correct use of the word “awesome”) power of the volcano began to creep into our consciousness.  The first night hike was just an observing session because admittedly it is a bit overwhelming to see a boiling lava lake.  Still in awe an hour later, and a bit cold, we made the return hike to the car to call it a night.

On our second night visit I carried a tripod along to capture night photos of the boiling lava lake.  However, as we left the cover of the trees on the first part of the road, the wind picked up a bit.  The wind was very strong and started to push me around.  So much so that using the tripod was a non-starter.  I had to rely on technology to get that photo.  By turning on VR (vibration reduction) and cranking up the ISO, I was able to capture a few usable photos, hand held, at 500mm.  Keep in mind we were about a mile away from the lava lake (closest you can get) and photographing a couple hundred feet below us through gas plumes.  Jan was hanging on to help keep me steady in the wind.  You can see small lava explosions left center of the photo.  Look at the top left and right center of the photo to see other vents adding to the excitement and wonder.  This whole lava lake is roughly 280 acres (1/3 of a square mile) in size, and several hundred feet deep.  Once again, we started to get chilled so we hiked back to the car to see if we captured any really cool photos.

The next day was our last in the park, so we decided to see what it all looked like when the sun was up for a change. 

Hawaiian Volcanoes by Brad Marks

This was taken about a mile further back on the road (west side of caldera, counter clockwise around the caldera) from where the prior daytime photos were taken in the first half of the story.  The NPS feels this is the closest safe place to view Halema’uma’u because of the damage to the road and buildings at the Jaggar Museum and HVO.  You can see the down-dropped block in the center of the photo.  This block subsided a couple hundred feet by the time the 2018 eruption had ceased.  These photos are how the Halema’uma’u crater looked the day we left the Big Island.  The next photo is from across the caldera looking back at the location the prior photo was taken from.  It is also from the same place that gave us the night shots of the boiling lava lake (left of center).  It gives a slightly better perspective of how large the Halema’uma’u crater has become.  Remember, the lava lake in the photo is about a mile from where we were standing

Hawaiian Volcanoes by Brad Marks

The crater as it exists today is twice as large (or more) than when we started visiting in 2002.  The lava lake alone is nearly the size of the original crater.  It’s not quite as big . . . yet, but may be by this time I finished writing this.

Though the major changes to Halema’uma’u were relatively short-term events, a few hours or days, in the big scheme of things.  We have been lucky enough to travel to the Big Island often (but not too often) enough to capture several of the changes over the past 20 years.  Who know what will happen in the next 20 years?  We hope to be on-hand every few years or so to find out.

Thank you very much for reading.  I want to thank the USGS and NPS for much of the technical information used in this article and have created links to the web pages most used below.  To see a few more non-volcano related photos from our Hawai’i vacations, please visit here.


To see a very condensed version of the changes I wrote about, visit the USGS website here for a brief  animated GIF showing the changes I talked about above.

Please visit the USGS site to see a 4-picture summary of these changes to Halema’uma’u.

For a much more detailed description of the changes to Halema’uma’u crater, please visit this article at the USGS site.  This site is a much more fluid story on the changes described above, because they are there every single day.  We only travel there once every five years or so.

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

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