Zooming in on the Kilauea volcano

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: Kilauea Curiosities / View Guide

Directions: Ask students to answer the following questions based on the Science News article “Kilauea curiosities.”

1. Based on your own experience or what you may have seen in the news, do you know of any volcanoes that have erupted recently? What do you know about those eruptions? If you haven’t heard of a recent eruption, in what geographic area do you think recent eruptions may have occurred?

Kilauea, in Hawaii, has been continuously erupting for more than 30 years. In 2018, the eruption went into overdrive, spewing lava that destroyed many homes and toxic gases that were hazardous to people’s health. Students might also mention Mount Cleveland (2017), Bogoslof Island (2017) or Pavlof volcano (2016) in Alaska. And students might know about Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala (2018), Anak Krakatoa in Indonesia (2018), Calbuco in Chile (2015), Mount Etna in Italy (ongoing since 2013) or Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull eruption (back in 2010). 

2. What surprised scientists about the 2018 Kilauea eruption? Each of the five sections of the article highlights one lesson learned. Summarize each finding in one or two sentences.

Section 1: The recent eruption was particularly explosive because the molten rock was andesite, which isn’t usually found in Hawaii. Andesite contains more silica and gas bubbles than basalt, which added to the eruption’s explosive power.

Section 2: The eruption revealed how connected the volcano’s internal plumbing is. Researchers tracking collapses at the summit could warn colleagues monitoring the lava flows elsewhere in the field.

Section 3: Dozens of small collapses at Kilauea, occurring at regular intervals, spurred earthquakes and caused the caldera to sink more than 500 meters — more than the height of the Empire State Building.

Section 4: Once the eruption made it to the ocean, marine life sprouted up in the lava flows surprisingly fast. For instance, microbes set up homes along the edges of the flows by about 100 days after lava first entered the ocean.

Section 5: Kilauea’s recent eruption spouted some of the highest levels of toxic sulfur dioxide ever recorded at the volcano. At its most active, Kilauea released as much as 100 to 200 kilotons of the gas per day.

3. What are the two geological causes of volcanic activity mentioned in the article?

Some volcanoes form along regions where two tectonic plates meet and slip beneath one another. Others, like Kilauea, are fueled by a “hot spot,” or plume of magma, within Earth’s interior.

4. The article explains the pattern and rate of caldera collapse. Describe the collapse pattern. How does the stability of the volcanic system change as the caldera collapses?

The caldera collapsed in fairly regular intervals. As gas builds up in the magma chamber, the pressure of the system in the chamber increases, decreasing the stability of the volcanic system until it erupts. An eruption releases gas, decreasing the pressure in the magma chamber. This pressure release increases the system’s stability. As gas builds up in the magma chamber again, the pattern repeats itself.

5. How much new land did the 2018 lava flows create? Where was that land created?

The lava produced more than a cubic mile of new land along Hawaii’s southeast coast.

6. What is happening at Kilauea today? What clues suggest continuing activity?

Kilauea has calmed down, giving off less gas and producing fewer earthquakes. Some land movement around the Puu Oo vent suggests magma might still be moving beneath the ground. Researchers aren’t sure what Kilauea will do next.

7. What vocabulary term in the article was new or unfamiliar to you? Name the term and define it.

Example: Vog is a term used to describe volcanic smog. It is a gaseous mixture of water vapor, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. 

8. Based on your reading of the article, what types of scientists are interested in studying volcanic eruptions and why? If you’d like more information about volcano-related jobs, check out the Science News for Students article “Cool Jobs: Getting to know volcanoes.”

Volcanologists are geologists that study all aspects of how volcanoes form and erupt to better understand the behavior of volcanoes. Determining the nature and causes of eruptions might help forecast their occurrence, which would help keep people safe. 

Geophysicists study the Earth itself and are interested in the relationships between volcanic eruptions and other geologic processes such as plate tectonics, mountain building and earthquakes. Geophysicists might also study volcanic eruptions like Kilauea’s to learn more about other planets that show signs of volcanic activity.

Biologists might study how a volcanic eruption affects life or new ecosystems that form in the wake of eruptions. Astrobiologists might use such information to explain how life could form in similar environments elsewhere in the solar system, such as Saturn’s moon Enceladus.