WASHINGTON – After a surprisingly explosive summer, Kilauea, the longest continuously erupting volcano in the world, finally seems to have taken a break. But the scientists who study it did not do it. Countless new data gathered during an unprecedented opportunity to monitor a sustained, accessible eruption is changing the knowledge about the behavior of some volcanoes.
"It was hugely important," says Jessica Larsen, Petronics University of Alaska Fairbanks, and "A departure from what Kilauea has been doing for more than 35 years."
The last outbreak started in May. When it ended three months later, more than 825 million cubic meters of earth collapsed on the summit. That's equivalent to 300,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, said Kyle Anderson, a geophysicist at the US Geologic Survey at Menlo Park, California, on December 1
As the summit crater emptied, flowing through subterranean tunnels and flowing through cracks in an area known as the Lower Eastern Rift Zone, at a speed of about 50 meters per day. This lava eventually covered 35.5 square kilometers of land, Anderson and his colleagues reported in a study published on Dec. 11 in Science .
The volcano also taught scientists one or two things.
] Scientists previously believed that groundwater plays a major role in the collapse of a caldera. When the craters of their magma were dehydrated, "the cracks were depressurizing the caldera, allowing the groundwater to penetrate and produce a series of explosive eruptions," Anderson said. "But the groundwater played no major role in the explosions this summer."
Instead, the destruction of the Kilauea crater is a piston butt collapse, he says. Sixty-two small collapse events shook the volcano from mid-May to late August. At each collapse, the crater sank and squeezed out the surrounding land. In the end, the center of the volcano sank by 500 meters – more than the height of the Empire State Building.
This activity not only destroyed the crater. "We saw outbreaks 40 km away in an outbreak," Anderson said.
CRATER CRUMBLE This timelapse video shows the gradual collapse of the Kilauea Summit.
Life finds a way
Under the sea, life moved surprisingly fast in the brand-new country. In September, researchers used a remote-controlled vehicle to explore the ocean floor for evidence of hydrothermal activity along newly deposited lava flows at a depth of approximately 650 meters. Surprisingly, pale yellow, potentially iron-oxidizing microbes were already absorbed.
"There is no reason why we should have expected hydrothermal activity within the first 100 days," said geologist Chris German Woods Hole's Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Massachusetts, at the press conference. "That's really life here!"
The discovery suggests "how volcanism can lead to chemical energy that drives primitive microbial organisms and makes a whole ecosystem bloom," he said.
Studying these ecosystems can give insight into how life can form in places like Enceladus, an icy Saturn moon. Hydrothermal activity is common when the tectonic plates of the earth meet. However, extraterrestrial worlds do not bear witness to plate tectonics, although they may be volcanically active. If we study how hydrothermal life forms near volcanoes that are not at tectonic boundaries on Earth, this could reveal a lot about other celestial bodies.
"This is a better analogue to what we expect from them," says Deutsch. it is what has been least researched.
Kilauea had not erupted for three months since Dec. 5, suggesting that it is in a so-called break – still active but not spewing lava. Observations from previous outbreaks suggest that the next phase of Kilauea's volcanic cycle may be calmer. But the volcano will probably not stay calm forever, says Christina Neal, senior scientist at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and co-author of Science paper. "We are in this downturn and we just do not know what will happen next," she says
Scientists are observing soil swelling near the Puu Oo River, from which much of the lava from Kilauea has flowed during the volcano's 35-year volcanic eruptions Magma still stops the movement deep down.
The terrain that surrounds this remote region is densely overgrown and difficult to study. New methods that were tested during the outbreak of 2018, such as the use of not
Scientists are also watching the volcano next door: Mauna Loa History has shown that Mauna Loa can operate in times when Kilauea sleeps, and in recent years, volcanologists have been keeping an eye on the larger kilauea Sister Volcano, which fell silent last autumn after a period of few earthquakes and temporary deformation: "We see in Mauna L. a little inflation and some earthquake swarms in which they were active. Neal says, "That's another cause for concern for us to go into the future."