Abstract

Ongoing eruptive activity at Kīlauea volcano’s (Hawai‘i) summit has been controlled in part by the evolution of its vent from a 35-m-diameter opening into a collapse crater 150 m across. Geologic observations, in particular from a network of webcams, have provided an unprecedented look at collapse crater development, lava lake dynamics, and shallow outgassing processes. These observations show unequivocally that the hundreds of transient outgassing bursts and weak explosive eruptions that have punctuated the vent’s otherwise nearly steady-state behavior, and that are associated with composite seismic events, were triggered by rockfalls from the vent walls onto the top of the lava column. While the process by which rockfalls drive the explosive bursts is not fully understood, we believe that it is initiated by the generation of a rebound splash, or Worthington jet, which then undergoes fragmentation. The external triggering of low-energy outgassing events by rockfalls represents a new class of small transient explosive eruptions.

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