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Swarm of 50 small earthquakes occur beneath Kīlauea summit over three hours

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This panoramic image was taken during an early morning helicopter overflight on September 12, 2022, and shows the current Halema‘uma‘u lava lake at the summit of Kīlauea. The blocks that dropped down during the 2018 summit collapse events are visible around the central lake. Sections of Crater Rim Drive, which previously circumnavigated the caldera, can be seen on the left side of the image. The degassing on the lake surface occurs from numerous sources, including the main vent (back center of the image), several small hornitos (front center), and around the margins of the cracks in the lake. USGS image by L. Gallant.

A seismic swarm of approximately 50 small earthquakes was reported over a three hour period, beginning at around 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, beneath the Kīlauea summit, according to the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

HVO scientists say that most earthquakes in this swarm occurred approximately 1 mile beneath the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater. The largest recorded earthquake was a magnitude 2.9, with the majority of the earthquakes being less than magnitude 2, according to the agency.

A status report issued on Tuesday indicates that increased seismicity, ground deformation, and surface lava flows were documented at Kīlauea’s summit on Hawaiʻi Island.

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HVO scientists report that there is no indication of activity migrating into either rift zone. 

Field crews monitoring Kīlauea’s summit lava lake in Halema‘uma‘u the morning of September 9, 2022, observed sloshing on the northeast margin of the lake that produced spatter bursts pictured in this image. The spatter clots were thrown up to 10 m (33 ft) into the air before landing back on the lava lake crust. USGS image by C. Parcheta.

The increase in earthquake activity beneath the summit was followed by summit inflation beginning around 4:20 p.m., a drop of 23-feet in the lava lake level, and new breakouts of lava on the Halema’uma’u crater floor at 4:30 p.m. 

“This activity likely represented a temporary blockage in the eruption of lava at Halemaʻumaʻu, causing pressurization below the surface. This resulted in the earthquakes and ground inflation,” according to the HVO. “Once the blockage was cleared, eruption of lava resumed with new breakouts occurring on Halemaʻumaʻu crater floor.”

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The report indicates that earthquake activity returned to near background levels as of 6 p.m. Tuesday.

As HVO geologists pulled up in the car to make measurements of the Halema‘uma‘u lava lake the morning of September 15, 2022, this was the spectacular sight that met them at the end of Crater Rim Drive. Steam rose from ground cracks across Kīlauea caldera and clouds were spilling over the eastern caldera rim. The sun had just risen above the low cloud cover and made the remaining deposits of Pele’s hair glisten like patches of gold on the crater rim. USGS photo by J. Schmith

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