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Reconstructing the deadly eruptive events of 1790 CE at Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

Donald A. Swanson, Samantha J. Weaver and Bruce F. Houghton
Reconstructing the deadly eruptive events of 1790 CE at Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii
Geological Society of America Bulletin (October 2014) 127 (3-4): 503-515


A large number of people died during an explosive eruption of Kilauea Volcano in 1790 CE. Detailed study of the upper part of the Keanakako'i Tephra has identified the deposits that may have been responsible for the deaths. Three successive units record shifts in eruption style that agree well with accounts of the eruption based on survivor interviews 46 yr later. First, a wet fall of very fine, accretionary-lapilli-bearing ash created a "cloud of darkness." People walked across the soft deposit, leaving footprints as evidence. While the ash was still unconsolidated, lithic lapilli fell into it from a high eruption column that was seen from 90 km away. Either just after this tephra fall or during its latest stage, pulsing dilute pyroclastic density currents, probably products of a phreatic eruption, swept across the western flank of Kilauea, embedding lapilli in the muddy ash and crossing the trail along which the footprints occur. The pyroclastic density currents were most likely responsible for the fatalities, as judged from the reported condition and probable location of the bodies. This reconstruction is relevant today, as similar eruptions will probably occur in the future at Kilauea and represent its most dangerous and least predictable hazard.

ISSN: 0016-7606
EISSN: 1943-2674
Serial Title: Geological Society of America Bulletin
Serial Volume: 127
Serial Issue: 3-4
Title: Reconstructing the deadly eruptive events of 1790 CE at Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii
Affiliation: U. S. Geological Survey, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, United States
Pages: 503-515
Published: 20141006
Text Language: English
Publisher: Geological Society of America (GSA), Boulder, CO, United States
References: 45
Accession Number: 2014-105128
Categories: Quaternary geologyEnvironmental geology
Document Type: Serial
Bibliographic Level: Analytic
Annotation: GSA Data Repository item 2014328
Illustration Description: illus. incl. 2 tables, sketch maps
N19°15'00" - N19°25'00", W155°19'60" - W155°04'60"
Secondary Affiliation: University of Hawaii-Manoa, USA, United States
Country of Publication: United States
Secondary Affiliation: GeoRef, Copyright 2019, American Geosciences Institute. Reference includes data from GeoScienceWorld, Alexandria, VA, United States. Reference includes data supplied by the Geological Society of America, Boulder, CO, United States
Update Code: 201452
Program Name: USGSOPNon-USGS publications with USGS authors
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