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Kilauea's Eruption - 20 Years Old

January 3, 2003 marks the 20th anniversary of the start of Kilauea's continuous


It's Friday, January 3, 2003 and Kilauea Volcano is erupting. Is this something new? No, but 20 years ago it was. Yes, 20 years ago, on January 3, 1983, Kilauea Volcano began its current continuous eruption. This erruption has added 544 acres of lava and black sand beach to the Big Island's southeastern shore.

The current Pu'u 'O'o-Kupaianaha eruption is Kilauea's 55th recorded eruptive episode, and accounts for the the most voluminous outpouring of lava on the volcano's east rift zone in the past six centuries, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Over these twenty years, lava has buried 43 square miles of land including over 200 homes, the entire town of Kalapana in 1990, the former Visitors' Center for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a 700-year-old native Hawaiian heiau, a historic church and more than 16,000 acres of lowland and rainforest.

In addition several deaths have been attributed to Kilauea, including a famous incident in 1993 when a tourist died when the portion of cooled fresh lava on which he was standing, broke away and fell into the ocean. Others have died as a result of exposure to volcanic gasses.

Kilauea is the home of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. Hawaiian chants and oral traditions tell of the many eruptions fomented by an angry Pele before the first European, the missionary Rev. William Ellis, saw the summit in 1823.

Kilauea caldera was the site of nearly continuous activity during the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. Since 1952 there have been 34 eruption cycles. Since January 1983, Kilauea has been in a virtual constant state of eruption. It is currently erupting at the cinder-and-spatter cone of Pu`u `O`o.

Lava erupting from the cone flows through a tube system down the Pulama pali about seven miles to the sea in what is referred to as the east rift zone. Kilauea ranks among the world's most active volcanoes.

For additional information on the current eruption of Kilauea Volcano and the volcanoes of the Big Island of Hawaii, we offer these additional articles:

  • Hawaii Volcanoes Photos
    Our collection of photos of the current eruption of Kilauea from 1983 until the present. New photos are being added every week. Don't miss these great photos of the only place on earth where the planet grows every day of the year.
  • Standing on the Edge of Creation
    Beginning in mid-July 2002, thousands of locals and visitors have been traveling to the end of Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park every evening to view the latest lava flows from Kilauea Volcano.
  • Volcanoes of the Big Island of Hawaii
    Find out about the five volcanoes that form the Big Island of Hawaii, three of which remain active to this day.

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