Volcano Image Archive

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Buy high resolution photos of the eruption of Kupaianaha on the Big Island of Hawaii.



The Pu'u 'O'o'Kupaianaha eruption began on January 3, 1983. For the first six months (episodes 1'3), fissures erupted intermittently along the middle east rift zone from Napau Crater to Kalalua. In June 1983, the activity became localized at the Pu'u 'O'o vent, which straddles the boundary of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. For the next three years (episodes 4'47), Pu'u 'O'o erupted approximately every three to four weeks, usually for less than 24 hours. Spectacular lava fountains that catapulted lava as high as 470 m above the vent characterized these eruptive episodes.

The high fountains produced mainly 'a'a flows, the more viscous and gas-poor of the two types of Hawaiian lava. 'A'a flows from Pu'u 'O'o were typically 3'5 m thick and advanced at speeds of 50'500 m/h, picking up speed and narrowing on steep slopes. Because of the short duration of each eruptive episode, none of these flows reached the ocean or the coastal highway. The flows posed an immediate threat, however, to the sparsely populated Royal Gardens subdivision, located on a steep slope 6 km southeast of the vent. 'A'a flows reached the subdivision in as little as 13 hours during several eruptive episodes and destroyed 16 houses in 1983 and 1984.

Fallout from the towering lava fountains built a cinder-and-spatter cone 255 m high, over twice the height of any other cone on the east rift zone. The cone was strikingly asymmetrical, because the prevailing trade winds caused most of the airborne fragments to pile up on the southwest side of the conduit.