The Volcanic Abyss Below

Noon, Thursday. April 30, 2015

 Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, Kilauea Volcano

 Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park


Halema’uma’u is a pit crater located within the much larger summit caldera of Kilauea in  Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The volcano diety, Pele resides in Halema’uma’u.


The roughly circular crater floor is approximately 920 m (3,018 ft) in diameter and 85 m (279 ft) below the floor of Kīlauea caldera. Its form has varied widely through its eruptive history

Kilauea volcano, one of the most active in the world has a history of producing lava lakes in its numerous craters.


Kīlauea’s ongoing summit eruption

Crater activity began to increase between March 10 and March 14, 2008 when gas began to vent from the east wall fumarole directly below the Crater Overlook. On March 19, 2008 an explosion opened a 65-100 diameter foot hole in the side of the wall where the vent once was. Debris spatter and pieces as large as an inch were scattered over 74 acres. One foot size blocks hit the crater overlook area. This was the first explosive eruption of Halemaʻumaʻu Crater since 1924.

A small “throat clearing” explosion on the night of April 9, 2008 widened the hole by an additional 15–30 feet and ejected debris over some 200 ft and further damaged the overlook. Scientists and local government officials ordered hundreds of people to evacuate from the Park and nearby villages because the sulfur dioxide concentration levels had reached a critical level. The evacuation lasted two days.

On April 16, 2008 the crater had its third significant explosive event, sending ash and debris throughout the area. A second evacuation of the park and surrounding areas was ordered on April 23, 2008

During 2008–2009, lava was only occasionally seen deep within this crater, often masked by thick volcanic fume.


In February 2010, lava rose within the Overlook crater and established a large lava lake that has persisted to today. Lava was present inside the vent fluctuating from 65 to 450 feet below the crater floor.

On April 24, 2015 molten lava in the vent rose to an all-time high level. A few days later, on April 29, the lava started spilling over the rim of the Overlook Crater and onto the floor of Halemaʻumaʻu Crater.

These photographs were taken near noon on April 30, 2015.


The lava lake in Halema‘uma‘u is most likely the second-largest lava lake on Earth, exceeded only by the lava lake in Nyiragongo Volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are a few other lava lakes on Earth—and all much smaller.

The longest-lived lava lake in historic times was probably the near permanent lake that occupied Halema’uma’u crater for most of the hundred year period between 1823 to 1924. Mark Twain has written about the fiery lake as well as countless of others.


In ancient Hawaiian chants ” She who shaped the sacred land”, the volcano goddess, Pele, lived in Halema’uma’u crater at Kiluea. Pele, was passionate, volatile, capricious, and while seen as the volcanic force for destruction, she is also known for creation.

According to ranger staff at the park, offerings are left for Pele at the edge of Halema’uma’u crater on a daily basis. That Pele is worshiped today as a goddess is common knowledge. Offerings of fruit, flowers, forest plants, berries and vegetables are left on a daily basis. Hula dancers routinely make offerings to Pele during hula competitions. When one speaks of Pele in contemporary Hawaii her name is often spoken with reverence.

Artist Herb Kane states that ” So long as the earth is alive with quakes and eruptions Pele will live in the Hawaiian hearts and minds as the personification of the natural phenomena of volcanic activity”. Joe Mullins echoes Kane’s thought: “Pele is an aspect of the Hawai’i of old that is constantly alive.

Legend says Tutu Pele had previously lived at each of the islands in the Hawaiian chain before making her home in Halemaumau, where she has resided since antiquity.  Tutu Pele created all the islands. She is forever ingrained in the Hawaiian culture.


The first non-Hawaiian group to enter the sacred region of Pele was led by Reverend William Ellis.

“After walking some distance over the sunken plain, which to several places sounded hollow under our feet, we at length came to the edge of the great crater, where a spectacle, sublime and even appalling, presented itself before us- “We stopped and trembled.”

“Astonishment and awe for some moments rendered us mute, and like statues, we stood fixed to the spot, with our eyes riveted on the abyss below.”

1823 Journal of William Ellis.


Hiking across the  lava flow at Kilauea Iki crater took on new significance this past hike knowing Halema’uma’u was quite active in the not so distant view. The Ranger we asked said the trail was safe but my imagination played with a heightened sense of danger anyhow.

Kīlauea, being the only volcano in the world that is simultaneously active enough to be interesting, docile enough to be harmless, and carefully monitored enough to be approachable, is a major part of the island’s tourist draw offering a number of hiking trails and points of interest. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a World Heritage Site.

The establishment of the Hawaii Volcano Observatory on the volcano’s rim in 1912, was  the first permanent such installation in the United States.  The observatory was the brainchild of Thomas Jagger, head of geology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Once funding was established, Jaggar directed the observatory between 1912 and 1940, and pioneered seismological and observational study and observation of active volcanoes.


Volcanoes are monuments to Earth’s origin, evidence that its primordial forces are still at work. The visibly active power has a strong influence on the hearts and minds of Hawaiians. Still they dance hula, with ancient chants of Madam Pele.

The woman Pele comes from Kahiki,
From the land of Polapola,
From the ascending mist of Kane, from the clouds that move in the sky,
From the pointed clouds born at Kahiki.
The woman Pele was restless for Hawaii.

Aloha, Dohn


About earthstonestation

promoting environmental education, protecting all species and preserving the wild places with art, music and storytelling.
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5 Responses to The Volcanic Abyss Below

  1. Thank you Dohn, for a really interesting post. The idea of an ever present laval lake reminding the locals of the potential for further activity anytime soon, for over a hundred years, is indeed awe inspiring. And certainly you can see why the culture of daily offerings developed. What do other parts of the world – particularly the masses of urbanised humanity, need to bring a heightened sense of their own fragile existence on this planet we all call home?
    Best wishes

    • Hi Julian, Ive been thinking of an answer to your question over the past few days. It’s difficult. The Urban dwellers have little connection to the larger natural world. Surrounded by a man-made environment and insulated with steel, brick and mortar, it’s all manufactured.There used to be stories, myths and legends that were related to place. Today, commercial architecture covers the land. Under it all Mother earth is alive.. Just have to find a way of incorporating cultural change that embraces the spirit of the land.

  2. Fascinating post. Thank you:)

  3. Pit says:

    Thanks, Dohn, for that informative story. 🙂
    Have a great weekend,

  4. Nil says:

    Thanks for your fascinating story 🙂
    Found the song and also a legend on You Tube to complete it…

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