No, Kilauea won’t cause mass destruction

Kilauea volcano
ASH CLOUD A dark cloud of ash spewed from Kilauea’s summit on May 15, rising more than three kilometers into the atmosphere.

Kilauea isn’t about to become another Krakatoa. So let’s just stop that rumor right there.

Twitter was awash last weekend in indignant volcanologists responding to a now-corrected Associated Press story that appeared to link the Hawaii volcano to the so-called Ring of Fire, and suggest its eruption could spark others in the ring. That’s just wrong, for a number of reasons.

The Ring of Fire is a picturesque description of the hundreds of volcanoes that surround the Pacific Ocean. Tectonic plates converge along all sides of the Pacific, and where you have converging tectonic plates, you have volcanoes. But an eruption at Mount St. Helens in the Cascades mountain range in the United States, for example, cannot trigger an eruption at Indonesia’s Krakatoa.

Furthermore, Kilauea isn’t at the edge of a tectonic plate. The volcano, along with the other volcanoes that formed the Hawaiian Islands, sits in the center of the Pacific plate. Those volcanoes, some extinct and some still active, have all been fed by a hot spot, a plume of magma rising from deep within Earth’s mantle.

Another Twitter post — also now deleted, thanks to many angry volcanologists — suggested that Kilauea was about to blow, and that it could be as devastating as the planet-scale eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 that killed tens of thousands of people. Also wrong. Yes, the U.S. Geological Survey, or USGS, has said that there is an increasing chance that a steam explosion will happen at Kilauea. And in fact, Kilauea has had such steam explosions before, most recently in 1924.

Kilauea volcanic boulder
In 1924, a series of steam explosions burst out of Kilauea’s summit crater over two and a half weeks. The explosions tossed this 8-ton boulder more than a kilometer high out of the summit crater. The steam was generated by the interaction of groundwater with the hot rocks within the crater.


But the danger to communities from a steam explosion at Kilauea is pretty limited. One reason that Kilauea and Krakatoa are so different in their explosiveness is silica. Krakatoa, which last erupted in 2017, is a stratovolcano, with tall, steep sides made of ash and lava. Its magma is relatively high in silica, which is also what makes it so explosive. The high…

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