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Looking up the slope of Kīlauea, a shield volcano on the island of Hawaiʻi which is the largest and the southeastern-most of the Hawaiian islands. In the foreground, the vent of the volcano has erupted fluid lava to the left. The crater is at the peak of Kilauea, visible here as a rising vapor column in the background. The peak behind the vapor column is Mauna Loa, a volcano that is separate from Kīlauea.
Puʻu ‘Ō‘ō, a vent on the east rift zone of the Hawaiian volcano Kīlauea
Highest point
Elevation 4,091 ft (1,247 m)
Prominence 50 ft (15 m)
Location Hawaiʻi, United States
Age of rock 210,000 to 280,000 years old
Mountain type Shield volcano, hotspot volcano
Volcanic arc/belt Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain
Last eruption January 3, 1983 – September 4, 2018

Kīlauea is an active shield volcano in the Hawaiian Islands, and the most active of the five volcanoes that together form the island of Hawaii. Located along the southern eastern shore of the island, the volcano is between 210,000 and 280,000 years old and emerged above sea level about 100,000 years ago.

It is the second youngest product of the Hawaiian hotspot and the current eruptive center of the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain. Structurally, Kīlauea has a large, fairly recently formed volcanic craters at its summit and two active rift zones.


Sulfur dioxide emissions from the Halemaumau vent 04-08-1 1
Sulfur dioxide emissions from the Halemaumau vent, Kīlauea

Kīlauea erupted nearly continuously from 1983 to 2018, causing considerable property damage, including the destruction of the towns of Kalapana in 1990, and Vacationland Hawaii and Kapoho in 2018. During the 2018 lower Puna eruption, which began on May 3, two dozen lava vents erupted. The eruption was accompanied by a strong earthquake on May 4 and nearly 2,000 residents were evacuated from the rural Leilani Estates subdivision and nearby areas.

On May 17, 2018 at 4:17 AM, the volcano explosively erupted at the summit in Halemaumau Crater, throwing ash 30,000 feet into the air. Continued explosive activity at the summit caused a months-long closure of the Kīlauea section of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, while vigorous eruptive activity in lower Puna and sent lava into the ocean in three places.

Halemaʻumaʻu crater2
The plume rising from the Halemaumau vent

It destroyed Hawaii's largest natural freshwater lake, covered substantial portions of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens, and completely overrun Vacationland Hawaii. Lava also filled Kapoho Bay and extended new land nearly a mile into the sea.

The County of Hawaii reported that 716 dwellings were destroyed by lava. By early August the eruption subsided substantially, and the last active lava was reported at the surface on September 4, 2018. Portions of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park reopened to the public on September 22. On December 5, 2018, after 90 days of inactivity from the volcano, the eruption that started in 1983 was declared to be over.


Apollo Astronauts
Apollo astronauts

NASA used the area to geologically train the Apollo Astronauts in recognizing volcanic features, planning traverses, collecting samples and taking photographs.

Training took place in April 1969, April 1970, December 1970, December 1971, and June 1972. Astronauts of Apollo 12, Apollo 14, Apollo 15, Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 used this training on the Moon. Notable geologist instructors included William R. Muehlberger.


USGS Kīlauea multimediaFile-2059 (2018-05-19)
Kīlauea's 2018 lower Puna eruption
Kilauea Crater (24475059625)
Kilauea Crater
Kilauea Crater (8375835024)
Steaming crater

The volcano has been a tourist attraction since the 1840s. In 1891 a campaign for a park on the volcano's slopes began, to create "Kilauea National Park", this was was signed into law by Woodrow Wilson on August 1, 1916. It was the 11th National Park in the United States, and the first in a Territory. Originally called "Hawaii National Park", it was split from the Haleakala National Park on September 22, 1960. Today, the park, renamed the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, is a major conservatory agency and tourist attraction, and, since 1987, a World Heritage Site.

In its early days, tourism was a relatively new concept, but grew slowly before exploding with the advent of air travel around 1959, the year Hawaii became a state. Today, tourism is driven by the island's exotic tropical locations, and Kīlauea, being one of the few volcanoes in the world in a more or less constant state of moderate eruption, was a major part of the island's tourist draw.

Until its closure on May 11 due to the danger and damage associated with the 2018 Lower East Rift Zone and summit events, Kīlauea was visited by roughly 2.6 million people annually, most of whom proceeded to visit the volcano from the Kilauea Visitor Center near the park entrance.

The Thomas A. Jaggar Museum was also a popular tourist stop, the museum's observation deck offered the best sheltered view on the volcano. A number of hiking trails, points of interest, and guided ranger programs existed.

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