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U.S. Geological Survey General Information Product 117

Eruptions of Hawaiian Volcanoes—
Past, Present, and Future

By Robert I. Tilling, Christina Heliker, and Donald A. Swanson


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Viewing an erupting volcano is a memorable experience, one that has inspired fear, superstition, worship, curiosity, and fascination since before the dawn of civilization. In modern times, volcanic phenomena have attracted intense scientific interest, because they provide the key to understanding processes that have created and shaped more than 80 percent of the Earth’s surface. The active Hawaiian volcanoes have received special attention worldwide because of their frequent spectacular eruptions, which often can be viewed and studied with relative ease and safety.

In January 1987, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), located on the rim of Kīlauea Volcano, celebrated its 75th Anniversary. In honor of HVO’s Diamond Jubilee, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) published Professional Paper 1350 (see list of Selected Readings, page 57), a comprehensive summary of the many studies on Hawaiian volcanism by USGS and other scientists through the mid-1980s. Drawing from the wealth of data contained in that volume, the USGS also published in 1987 the original edition of this general-interest booklet, focusing on selected aspects of the eruptive history, style, and products of two of Hawai‘i’s active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. This revised edition of the booklet—spurred by the approaching Centennial of HVO in January 2012—summarizes new information gained since the January 1983 onset of Kīlauea’s Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō-Kupaianaha eruption, which has continued essentially nonstop through 2010 and shows no signs of letup. It also includes description of Kīlauea’s summit activity within Halema‘uma‘u Crater, which began in mid-March 2008 and continues as of this writing (late 2010).

This general-interest booklet is a companion to the one on Mount St. Helens Volcano first published in 1984 and revised in 1990 (see Selected Readings). Together, these publications illustrate the contrast between the two main types of volcanoes: shield volcanoes, such as those in Hawai‘i, which generally are nonexplosive; and composite volcanoes, such as Mount St. Helens in the Cascade Range, which are renowned for their explosive eruptions.

Last modified November 14, 2014
First posted December 30, 2010

  • This report is also available in print from:

    USGS Information Services, Box 25286,
    Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225
    telephone: 888 ASK-USGS; e-mail:

For additional information:
Contact HVO
Volcano Science Center, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
U.S. Geological Survey
P.O. Box 51, 1 Crater Rim Road
Hawaii National Park, HI 96718-0051

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Suggested citation:

Tilling, R.I., Heliker, C., and Swanson D.A., 2010, Eruptions of Hawaiian volcanoes; past, present, and future: U.S. Geological Survey General Information Product 117, 63 p., available at




Origin of the Hawaiian Islands

Hawaiian Eruptions in Recorded History

Volcano Monitoring and Research

Kīlauea’s Volcanic “Plumbing System”

Hawaiian Eruptive Style: Powerful but Usually Benign

Hawaiian Volcanic Products, Landforms, and Structures

Lō‘ihi: Hawai‘i’s Newest Volcano

Volcanic Hazards and Benefits

Selected Readings

Selected Viewings

Selected Websites

Conversion of Units


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