Did heavy rain trigger Kilauea’s eruption? It’s complicated

Thursday, April 23, 2020 - 15:11 in Earth & Climate

When it rains heavily in Hawaii, lava pours from the volcano Kilauea, according to a new study facing strong scrutiny by some volcanologists. Starting in May 2018, the volcano dramatically ramped up its 35-year-long eruption, opening 24 new fissures and shooting fountains of lava 80 meters into the air. Within three months, the volcano had unleashed as much lava as it normally produces in 10 or 20 years, according to rates of average lava flow going back decades. The new study, published April 22 in Nature, suggests that the volcanic episode was triggered by heavy rainfall in the months preceding. The idea is that large amounts of rain seeping into the ground increased the pressure within the rocks, creating zones of weakness that then fractured. Those fractures presented “new pathways for molten magma to make its way to the surface,” says study coauthor Jamie Farquharson, a volcanologist at the University of Miami in Florida. Precipitation data from satellites indicate that Kilauea received more...

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