While Hawaii‘s Kilauea volcano continues to erupt, this explosive episode of volcanic activity has already made a dramatic impact on the land, from the summit down to the ocean. Prior to the eruption, the crater summit presented as a massive lava pool. With the start of the eruption and the opening of fissures in early May, the lava drained from the crater toward lower ground. The subsequent explosions of ash and gas caused the crater to begin to collapse. Now, weeks later, the crater has become a steep, gray depression with a depth of 1,000 feet from the rim to its deepest point.
As the volcanic activity continues, so too does the deepening of the crater. The U.S. Geological Survey recently reported that the location of a GPS station within the crater dropped 200 feet within a week. Satellite images have helped to illustrate the speed and intensity with which the crater summit has deformed. “The fringes are so close together in the center of the caldera that they merge together and cannot be distinguished — a sign of the extreme and rapid style of subsidence happening at the summit!” wrote the USGS.
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While the images may be striking, Kilauea’s evolution is very much in line with what scientists expect to occur in the wake of an eruption and the subsequent draining of molten rock. “If you look at a lot of these big shield volcanoes, these collapse calderas are fairly common features,” Denison University volcanologist Erik Klemetti told Earther. Though such a crumbling of the caldera was anticipated, the ultimate conclusion of this eruptive event is yet to be determined. “I think it’s anybody’s guess,” Klemetti said. Meanwhile, the lava flow from the volcano is now more fluid and hotter than it was previously, posing a new, fast-moving danger to those in the region.
Images via USGS