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Kīlauea -- Perhaps the World's
Most Active Volcano

View north-northwest across Kilauea caldera, Hawai`i
View north-northeast across Kīlauea's summit
caldera and Halema`uma`u crater (left of center)

Kīlauea is the youngest and southeastern most volcano on the Big Island of Hawai`i. Topographically Kīlauea appears as only a bulge on the southeastern flank of Mauna Loa, and so for many years Kīlauea was thought to be a mere satellite of its giant neighbor, not a separate volcano. However, research over the past few decades shows clearly that Kīlauea has its own magma-plumbing system, extending to the surface from more than 60 km deep in the earth.

In fact, the summit of Kīlauea lies on a curving line of volcanoes that includes Mauna Kea and Kohala and excludes Mauna Loa. In other words, Kīlauea is to Mauna Kea as Lo`ihi is to Mauna Loa. Hawaiians used the word Kīlauea only for the summit caldera, but earth scientists and, over time, popular usage have extended the name to include the entire volcano.

Aerial view of active lava flow field, Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii
11 October 2002
The eruption of Kīlauea Volcano that began in 1983 continues at the cinder-and-spatter cone of Pu`u `Ō `ō (high point on skyline). Lava erupting from the cone flows through a tube system down Pulama pali about 11 km to the sea (lower left).


Kīlauea is the home of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. Hawaiian chants and oral traditions tell in veiled form of many eruptions fomented by an angry Pele before the first European, the missionary Rev. William Ellis, saw the summit in 1823. The caldera was the site of nearly continuous activity during the 19th century and the early part of this century. Since 1952 there have been 34 eruptions, and since January 1983 eruptive activity has been continuous along the east rift zone. All told, Kīlauea ranks among the world's most active volcanoes and may even top the list.

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| Eruption Update | Eruption Summary | Hazards | History |

Kīlauea Facts

Map of outline of Kilauea Volcano
Map of the Island of Hawai`i
19.425 N 155.292 W

Elev. Above Sea Level
1,277 m
4,190 ft

1,430 km2
552 mi2
(13.7% of Hawai`i)

25,000-35,000 km3
6,000-8,500 mi3

Hawaiian Meaning
The Hawaiian name "Kīlauea" means "spewing" or "much spreading," apparently in reference to the lava flows that it erupts.

Most Recent Eruption
Continuous since January 3, 1983

Number of Historical Eruptions
61, not counting the continuous lava-lake activity in Halema`uma`u crater

Summit Caldera
The caldera itself has no Hawaiian name other than Kīlauea but houses the famous crater, Halema`uma`u; "hale" is a house, "ma`uma`u" a type of fern. Kamapua`a, a jilted suitor of Pele, is said to have built a house of ferns over Halema`uma`u to keep Pele from escaping her home and causing eruptions. The ploy failed.

  • Dimension: 6 x 6 km (outermost faults), 3 x 5 km (main depression)
  • Depth: 165 m deep
  • Age: probably several incremental collapses 500-210 years ago

Oldest Dated Rocks
23,000 years old

Estimated Age of Earliest Subaerial Eruptions
50,000-100,000 years

Estimated Age of First Eruption of Kīlauea
300,000-600,000 years before present

Hawaiian Volcano Stage
Shield-forming stage skip past bottom navigational bar

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Updated: 7 May 2009 (pnf)