Tourists, May 1924, Kilauea

Tourists posing in May 1924 (at a safe distance!) at Kilauea Volcano as a large explosion cloud rises thousands of feet into the air. (Photograph courtesy of the Bishop Museum.)

A series of steam explosions began on May 10 at Halemaumau and continued vigorously for two and a half weeks. Each explosion lasted from a few minutes to 7 hours; the most powerful ones sent ash plumes more than a mile high and hurled large blocks, some weighing several tons, more than a half mile from Halemaumau. Many of these blocks were red hot. A photographer, who ventured too close to the crater, was struck by a falling block and died the next day from his injuries. When the explosions ended, Halemaumau was about twice as wide, and eight times as deep, as before the eruption. The 1790 and 1924 eruptions were explosive because they involved the violent mixing of ground water and magma or hot rocks. During both eruptions, as the the magma column subsided in the vent, ground water came into sudden contact with hot material and flashed explosively to steam. The 1924 eruption ejected only chunks of solid, hot older rocks; none was newly formed from magma. The 1790 eruption expelled fragments of solid, older rocks and new magmatic material, suggesting that ground water mixed with both. Though impressive, the 1924 explosions produced only about one-tenth of 1 Percent of the volume of the 1790 explosions.

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Updated 05.01.97