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Two small scoria vents were discovered in the Koa‘e fault system, an extensional regime connecting the east and southwest rift zones of Kīlauea that was previously considered to be noneruptive. The chemical composition of the scoria suggests an early to middle nineteenth-century age. The vents prove that magma can intrude several kilometers into the central part of the Koa‘e fault system from the nearest rift zone, supporting previous seismic and geodetic inferences of intrusions into the Koa‘e fault system in the twentieth century.

Geodetic studies for the past 50 yr document widening of the Koa‘e fault system at a time-averaged rate of ~4.5 cm/yr, involving mostly coseismic strains, but also creep and displacement related to dike intrusions. These rates are consistent with a longer-term widening rate for the past ~700 yr calculated from crack widths in a lava flow of about that age. The Koa‘e fault system blends into, and is a structural continuation of, the east rift zone. We interpret the locus of intrusion in the east rift zone to have migrated ~6.5 km SE during the past 100,000–125,000 yr, as estimated from linear extrapolation of measured displacement rates across the Koa‘e fault system and east rift zone. The inception of migration is consistent with the onset of the tholeiitic stage at Kīlauea as interpreted by previous studies. As the rift zone moved away from the summit, a marked curvature in the transport pathway developed in order for the rift zone to maintain its connection to the summit magma reservoir. The migration resulted in development of the SE-trending east rift connector, a term we prefer instead of the upper east rift zone. The connector supplies magma to the ENE-trending rift zone from the summit storage complex but is not itself the site of significant magma storage or eruption.

The Koa‘e fault system merges into the southwest rift zone, which has been migrating southeastward for an uncertain period of time. Some magma that enters it passes from the summit reservoir complex through the southwest rift connector (seismic southwest rift zone), analogous to the east rift connector. Both connectors reflect the response of magma-transport pathways to asymmetric volcano spreading away from a relatively fixed summit magma reservoir.

The ENE structural grain of the Koa‘e fault system and east rift zone pervades Kīlauea’s entire edifice. Most eruptions take place along this trend. The major exception is the southwest rift zone, which may reflect the stresses of Mauna Loa spreading and the Ka‘ōiki fault system. The dominant ENE grain emphasizes the importance of SSE-directed volcano spreading in controlling most of Kīlauea’s tectonic and eruptive behavior.

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