Two VC readers, mjf and Turtlebirdman, contributed lists of historical and slightly pre-historical eruptions of Kilauea. They are worth putting into a post and that is what we have done. We assumed that the second list made use of the first, and used that.
It is worth pointing out that an eruption is a failed intrusion. It appears that the lower east rift zone (LERZ) erupts in part from previously stored magma. The storage is replenished during intrusions. These may lead to eruptions but at other times they do not, or there may be a very small eruption. When something triggers a full-blown eruption, it lives off the magma supplied by the previous intrusions. The summit works a bit different, as it has a more or less continuous magma supply. Where the magma erupts depends on which plumbing is open. If there is an easy (low stress) route to the east rift zone, the magma tends to go there and summit eruptions are rare. If there is a blockage, magma collects under the summit and eruptions can be at or near the summit. And for variation, it may erupt on the southwest rift zone.
The reason that the east rift zone is prolific is the slumping of the island. The south side of the island slowly slides towards the ocean. This is needed because the lava is added to the slopes of Mauna Loa and that can’t go on forever. The slumping has formed a fault along the south side of the island, and the magma has found that this line of weakness allow for easy travel. The only reason there are any summit eruption is that Kilauea is not directly on this line: it is further north. The magma has to travel along the B-road before reaching the motorway of the rift. Over the past 35 years, this route have been completely open. But now that Kilauea has drained so much, there may not be enough pressure left for this, in which case it is possible (but not certain) that another era of summit eruptions will begin.
Summit eruptions can be either explosive, or effusive. It goes in phases. When the caldera is deep, explosions dominate. When the magma level is high, lava flows effusively, going everywhere. Rift eruptions are mainly effusive.
The current caldera formed just before 1500 AD, after a major long-lasting eruption drained the magma chamber. There was a different caldera before. But at other times, there was no caldera, just a massive shield. Kilauea shows us a different face every few hundred years. We haven’t seen all its faces yet.
The historical record begins in 1790. For older eruptions, we are dependent on dating of the various lava flows. The older the flow, the less complete our knowledge is. And where flows are buried underneath younger flows, we will know very little about the volume of the eruption.
And now we are passing the word to Turtlebirdman.
Here is a timeline of large events at kilauea that postdate the caldera, that I am aware of. There are probably more. Obviously there are lots of intrusions we will never know about.
~1500 – caldera forms, 300 years of dominantly pyroclastic eruptions at the summit ending in ~1810.
~1500s – small lava shield eruption near current location of 1955 upper vents, vent buried by heiheiahulu. Probably similar to mauna ulu or kupaianaha.
~1550? – large eruption very close to pu’u kaliu, covers it with tephra and probably why it looks weird compared to the other cones (no crater, etc)
~1650- pu’u honuaula forms, big eruption, probably similar to current eruption.
~1650-1700 – kapoho crater forms, overlying some of the lava from pu’u honuaula. Not sure if there are any lava flows associated with it that still exist.
1750 – heiheiahulu eruption, lava shield similar to pu’u o’o, probably long lived over 10 years. Most likely the biggest post-caldera flank eruption before pu’u o’o.
1790 – eruption on the lower east rift. possibly two parallel dikes with associated double eruption. Probably similar in size to the current eruption.
1790 – largest eruption in the keanakako’i tephra series. VEI4 plinian steam driven eruption with pyroclastic flows that killed 300+ people who were near the caldera.
~1790-1810 – series of further large eruptions that produced lava fountains in excess of 1 km high, depositing tephra outside the caldera to the southwest. Golden pumice and east pumice.
1820 – summit
1823 – very fast eruption on the southwest rift that led to the caldera draining out and formation of a large lava flow that reached the sea. Flowed over a village and likely all its inhabitants. This eruption was probably similar to the 1977 eruption of nyiragongo.
1823-1896 – near continuous activity on the caldera floor.
1832 – small eruption on the caldera edge near kilauea iki, large intrusion into the lower east rift that ends without eruption.
1840 – very active in the caldera, then everything drains out down the still molten 1832 dike and erupts at various places on the east rift down to nanawale estates. Kilaueas biggest historical eruption before 1969. Drains out the magma system at a deep level and stops the rapid supply rate started in the 1700s.
1868 – small eruptions in kilauea iki and on the southwest rift, possible unconfirmed small eruption on the east rift. Probably intrusion into east rift. Result of the 1868 earthquake.
1877 – eruption on caldera wall between kilauea iki and keanakako’i craters. Mostly buried now.
1884 – brief eruption off coast of cape kumukahi.
1894 – overflows from halemaumau lava lake.
1912 – HVO was built.
1916 – activity returns to halemaumau after relatively infrequent activity in the preceding decade.
1918 – shallow eruption on the caldera floor in an area called ‘postal rift’. Since been buried by later flows.
1919 – overflows of halemaumau covering most of the caldera.
1919-1920 – mauna iki eruption on southwest rift. Fed at shallow depth to halemaumau and erupted quietly and mostly slowly.
1921 – halemaumau overflows again but not as extensively as in 1919. Some flows escape the caldera through a gap to the south.
1922 eruption on the east rift in makaopuhi and napau.
1923 eruption on east rift in makaopuhi and napau and downrift where pu’u o’o is now.
1924 – lava lake drains out deep and crater starts collapsing.
1924 – deep intrusion to lower east rift and puna ridge with failed eruption.
1924 – explosive eruptions at halemaumau that increase its diameter to twice what it was before. Probably driven by build up of pressure under collapsed material, vulcanian activity. One person killed by falling rock on May 18.
1924 – small eruptions at the bottom of halemaumau, lasts only a few days.
1927 – another eruption in halemaumau, lasts a few days.
1933/34 – slightly bigger eruption – lasts a few weeks. Kilauea goes dormant after this for 18 years.
1940s – several intrusions into the upper east rift.
1950 – deep earthquakes indicate much more magma, and intrusion into the east rift to past napau.
1952 – very big eruption at halemaumau, lava fountains taller than the crater and forms a lava lake nearly 200 meters deep and fills halemaumau half way.
1954 – small eruption in halemaumau and caldera towards kilauea iki.
1955 – large east rift eruption over the whole of the lower rift zone, lasts 3 months. First large east rift eruption since 1840.
1959 – very big eruption in kilauea iki, fills it half way with a lava lake up to 150 meters deep, lava fountains up to about 600 meters high and extensive tephra fallout to the south. Probably similar to the eruptions in the earl 19th century. Forms pu’u puai cinder cone.
1960 – eruption at the end of the 1955 vents, builds a large cinder cone with lava fountains 500 meters high. Lava buries Kapoho and Koae villages, and almost buries cape kumukahi lighthouse. Significant summit deflation of 1.6 meters at HVO, and collapses at halemaumau. Forms ‘kapoho cinder pit’.
1961 – very small eruption in halemaumau, lasts 8 hours.
1961 – much longer eruption in halemaumau lasting 2 weeks
1961 – another brief eruption lasting a few days.
1961 – east rift eruption, brief event lasting 4 days. Vents between kane nui o hamo and heiheiahulu.
1962 – small eruption near napau and makaopuhi.
1963 – small eruption near napau and makaopuhi. Lava lake in alae crater.
1963 – small eruption near napau and makaopuhi.
1965 – larger eruption in makaopuhi and some lava further east. Forms a lava lake in mahaopuhi.
1965 – brief eruption near napau and makaopuhi.
1967-1968 – very large eruption in halemaumau, initial lava lake gets to within 20 meters of the edge before it stops and drains. Resumes but at a lower level and makes a perched lava pond that erupts many times over the next 8 months.
1968 – eruption at makaopuhi and napau.
1968 – eruption between hi’iaka crater and kane nui o hamo. Brief eruption lasting one day with very small lava flows. Significant south flank disturbance indicating large intrusion.
1969 – eruption between pauahi crater and kane nui o hamo.
1969-1971 – mauna ulu forms. Continuous eruption. lava fountains up to 550 meters high. Fills alae and aloi craters. Lava flows to the ocean.
1971 – eruption from vents through halemaumau and towards kilauea iki, as well as the southwest rift down to past mauna iki.
1971 – eruption on the caldera fault between kilauea iki and keanakako’i craters.
1972 1974 – lava erupts at mauna ulu again after 9 months. eruptions build the lava shield up and reach the ocean again.
1973 eruptions at pauahi and hi’iaka craters, alligned with the koae faults. fissures open up to the north of mauna ulu but erupt briefly.
1974 eruptions near keanakako’i and to the east, as well as in the caldera near the 1971 vents. still liquid lava from 1968 drains out of halemaumau causing it to collapse. Lava flows on upper east rift. Mauna ulu ends at this time.
1974 – brief but very fast eruption on the southwest rift zone. Lava flows 13 km in 10 hours before the eruption stops. Seismic activity suggests there was a large intrusion towards the southwest up to the kamakaia hills.
1975 – tiny eruption north east of halemaumau following the 7.2 earthquake on the south flank. Lasts only a few hours. Nearly continuous slow intrusion into the east rift over the next 7 years.
1977 – eruption near kalalua cone in the middle east rift. Mostly small but the last 2 days were much bigger and included 300 meter lava fountains and a 12 km long lava flow that almost reached Kalapana. Formed pu’u kiai.
1979 – eruption in and near pauahi crater. Large intrusion associated with the eruption.
1980 – very tiny eruption near mauna ulu. large intrusion into middle east rift.
1980-1982 – many intrusions into upper east and southwest rifts.
1982 – eruption in halemaumau and the caldera towards kilauea iki. Visible for 1 day but continued at a very low level for about another week.
1982 – eruption on caldera fault between the 1974 vents. lasted just over 1 day.
1983 – 1986 – pu’u o’o forms. 48 episodes of high lava fountains build a 250 meter high cinder cone. Lava flows up to 14 km long but no ocean entry.
1986-1992 – kupaianaha shield forms 3 km downrift of pu’u o’o. no fountaining but forms a lava lake and a lava shield the same size as mauna ulu but not as tall. Lava flows to the sea many times, destroys Kalapana in 1990. Lava in pu’u o’o but not erupting.
1991 – eruption between kupaianaha and pu’u o’o, lava flows into royal gardens subdivision. Kupaianaha continues erupting but at much reduced level and dies in 1992.
1992-1997 – fissures on the west side of pu’u o’o, lava buries most of the west side of the cone in a new shield. Lava flow to the ocean many times.
1997 – eruption between pu’u o’o and napau. Lasts just under a day and includes major collapses of pu’u o’o cone.
1997-2007 – eruption at pu’u o’o on the west side again, with lava flows to the sea almost continuously from several different vents.
2007 – tiny eruption on the north side of kane nui o hamo. Large intrusion associated with this eruption. Pu’u o’o collapses again, no eruptions for a month.
2007-2011 – pu’u o’o refills and lava breaks out between it and kupaianaha again. Eruption for 4 years with lava burying most of kupaianaha and flowing into kalapana again.
2008 – pit appears in halemaumau and lava erupts in it. Large lava lake for the next 10 years.
2011 – eruption between napau and pu’u o’o. Lasts 4 days and lava flows south of the rift. Pu’u o’o collapses again.
2011 – pu’u o’o refills with a lava lake and then breaks out with a very large fast flow to the southwest. Eruption doesnt sustain and stops for 2 weeks.
2011-2018 – pu’u o’o refills and lava erupts on the east flank. Lava flows to the ocean less frequently and flows as far as pahoa 25 km away.
2015 – eruption in halemaumau. lava overflows the pit.
2018 – larger eruption at halemaumau, lava covers most of the crater floor.
2018 – very large eruption on lower east rift inside Leilani estates and Lanipuna subdivision. Lava flows to the ocean several times. Large cinder cone formed that has yet to be named, flows from this cone destroy Kapoho 13 km away and enter the ocean. Biggest lower rift eruption since 1840. Still ongoing.
And more from Turtlebirdman
I have some more info on some earlier eruptions, stuff that predates the caldera. Obviously there would have been way more eruptions but kilauea is largely a mystery before 1000 years ago so there isn’t much left…
A lot of this is based on my interpretation so it probably isn’t as accurate.
Last ice age, 25,000 – 15,000 years ago, pahala ash series. possibly over 10,000 years of dominantly explosive eruptions, including some possible ignimbrite formation based on the appearance of the formation. Likely to be several eruptions in the VEI 5 range and probably a large caldera. Ash today exposed in sea cliffs on kilaueas south flank, as well as on the southeast flank of mauna loa. Eruptions reached the south coast.
7000-2000 years ago – most of the puna ridge surface dates from this time, few flows younger than this and none that are really recent were observed. Probably why the puna ridge is very deep even close to the lower east rift, eruptions seem to be infrequent there possibly indicating some change in kilauea in the last 2000 years that prevents intrusions from getting past kapoho easily.
~100 BCE-1000 AD – Powers caldera and uwekahuna tephra series. Lava flows are rare in the summit area. Relatively low eruption rate but very big eruptions spread out. Most of the summit area covered by pyroclastic flow and surge deposits.
270 BCE – Kipuka nene lava flows. large lava flow field over 1 km3 in volume and possibly a lot higher if most of it ended up in the sea. Today cut by the koae faults and one of the older surfaces still exposed on kilauea. Erupted from a vent that might have predated the powers caldera.
850 AD – Large explosive eruption simultaneous with a big lava flow from the summit area, possibly on a ring fault (I cant find the source to this now but I remember reading it a few years ago). Lower kulanakaoiki tephra and kipuka hornet lava flow?
900 AD – Plinian eruption with large airfall deposit around the caldera and to the south, though only minor pyroclastic flow deposits recognised. Lava is a very primitive basalt with little to no residence time in the crust. Very high magnesium content of over 12% suggesting extremely rapid asscent from the mantle to the surface. Eruption likely at least a VEI 4. Upper kulanakaoiki tephra.
~1000 AD? – Kalalua cone forms in the middle east rift. Today it is fragmented and partly buried by the pu’u o’o eruptions, but it was likely a significant eruption when it was new based on how much survives today. It might have been a lava shield like mauna ulu. Age is a very rough estimate.
~1000 AD – lava starts erupting in the caldera again. Probably not very different from the historical period.
1200 – 1350 AD – lava overflows the caldera and constructs the observatory shield. Lava flows mostly to the southwest but some goes south and probably also east and north east. Very likely not a continuous flow, but rather periodic breakouts from flank vents that sent robust lava flows down the slopes at a relatively high effusion rate but for a relatively short amount of time. Remains active up to 1500 but mostly stops overflowing before 1400.
~ 1250-1300 – Kane nui o hamo eruption. The biggest lava shield on the east rift before pu’u o’o formed. Likely at least 2 km3 in volume, and lava flows extend from hilina pali to Kalapana along the coast. This eruption probably lasted decades like pu’u o’o, and likely formed in the same manner.
~1300 – pu’u kaliu eruption on the lower east rift near Leilani estates. Lava flows to the south and possibly east. Large cinder cone forms that is still a high point today. Possibly formed after the conduit to kane nui o hamo ruptured and a dike went to the lower rift, similar to the current eruption now, this is theoretical though.
~1300 – Puulena, kahuaki, pawai craters form slightly east of Leilani estates. Eruptions are mostly magmatic but ended with violent explosions that made the existing craters. The lava from these craters has been covered by lava from 1790 and 2018. Most likely syn-eruptive with pu’u kaliu.
1400-1500 – The aila’au eruptions happen from fissures to the north east of the observatory vent, where kilauea iki is now. The eruptions are vigorous and produce large lava flows that reach the ocean on the north coast as far as 45 km away, fed by extensive large tube systems at a fairly high eruption rate of at least 15 m3/s over an extended period of time. The first stage included lava fountains and cinder cone formation, although eventually all of this was buried by more effusive activity that created a large shield like the observatory vent before it, and which is still largely intact. These flows covered much older ground that was fertile and populated, and are recorded in a chant along with the caldera formation.
Activity ends just before the modern caldera forms, though is not the cause of said collapse. Only eruption currently exposed that is bigger than pu’u o’o.
~1500 – observatory shield collapses and some pit craters form on the east rift and on aila’au shield. Return to violent eruptive activity with extensive pyroclastic fallout to the southwest.