Pele Meets the Sea

Part I: Movies of Active Lava

Activity at the vent

The Island of Hawaii is home to Kilauea volcano, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth. The lava flows from Kilauea are derived from the Earth's mantle, approximately 60 kilometers below the surface. Lava flowing out of the Earth and into the sea is the process that formed the Hawaiian Islands out of the great depths of the Pacific Ocean, and which continues to enlarge the Big Island today. The latest phase of Kilauea's periodic eruptions started in January of 1983, when fountains of molten lava started to build the cinder cone called Pu'u O'o.

The three video segments shown here illustrate some of the activity that characterized the active of a vent called Kupaianaha was active to the east of Pu'u O'o between 1989 and 1992. Although each video is quite short, they provide interesting glimpses of active volcanic processes that are difficult to study from still photography.

Click here for movie.

Between 1989 and 1992, the main center of activity on the East Rift Zone of Kilauea was at the Kupaianaha lava lake. While it was active, Kupaianaha acted as a reservoir for the lava from Pu'u O'o before it headed down the flank of the volcano. The size of the lava lake varied greatly from month to month, as did the amount of molten lava it contained. Sometimes there was enough lava to fill and overflow its steep walls.

This video shows a general view of the lava lake, which at this time was ~30 meters wide and 15 meters deep. In this view we get a good view of the start of three active lava tubes on the downslope side of the lake. It is through these tubes that the lava starts its 10 km journey to the ocean.

Click here for movie.

Magmatic gas was also released at Kupaianaha. The gas can be seen as it churns the surface of the lava lake into fiery fountains, and also as it bubbles gently to the surface.

Click here for movie.

At nighttime, the surface of the Kupaianaha lava lake is really impressive! Parts of the solidified crust that are moving across the lake get fractured and reveal molten lava just beneath the surface. This is similar to the process of subduction of ocean floor via plate tectonics.

Here we can see in this video that the solid lake surface is denser than the molten lava, and so sinks into the lake, causing new molten rock to take its place on the surface.

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Diving and video movie: Richard Pyle, Jane Culp, Frank Sansone, Gordon Tribble, Jane Tribble, David Schideler, Kevin Kelly, John Earle, Randall Kosaki;Copyright 1990 LavaVideo Productions, 741 N. Kalaheo Avenue, Kailua, HI 96734.

Digitization and HTML presentation: Cristina Lumpkin and Pierre Flament

To see some related photos and for references to some more information that may be of interest, please check out the link to Frank Sansone's web page on our Project Linkspage.