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Halemaumau Crater with lava lake, Kilauea

Glow of the lava lake in Halemaumau Crater (before 2018)
Glow of the lava lake in Halemaumau Crater (before 2018). / National Park Service/Ed Shiinoki, Wikimedia Commons / public domain

WorldBlue  In short

It is possible that Kilauea is the most active volcano in the world. The caldera at the summit of this volcano until recent times contained a deep pit – Halemaumau Crater – with a lava lake in it. Now, in May 2019, the lava lake has disappeared and the pit – Halemaumau crater – has partly collapsed.

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GPS coordinates
19.4058 N 155.2812 W
Location, address
Oceania, United States, Hawaii, southeastern part of Hawaii Island, some 50 km from Hilo
Alternate names
Halemaʻumaʻu Crater
1,222 m
UNESCO World Heritage status
Part of "Hawaii Volcanoes National Park", 1987, No. 409

Map of the site

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WorldYellow In detail

Kilauea – one of the most active volcanoes in the world

Until recent times geologists thought that Kilauea (correct – Kīlauea) is a side crater of another volcano – the giant Mauna Loa whose caldera is some 33 km to the north-west.

Kilauea Caldera with Halemaumau Crater, 2016
Kilauea Caldera with Halemaumau Crater, 2016. / Tim Orr, USGS, Wikimedia Commons / public domain

Now it has been proved that Kilauea is a separate volcano that has its own plumbing of magma extending more than 60 km deep.

Kilauea with its numerous vents and side craters have formed the south-eastern part of Hawaii Island. It is some 1.2 km tall, with gentle slopes – a typical shield volcano. The landscape around the summit of the volcano is barren, even desert-like: the frequent lava flows and sulfurous smogs (called – vogs) have eliminated most of the vegetation.

The volcano has more than 10 craters that like a row of bullets from automatic weapons have pierced the island. The most famous and most interesting is the westernmost crater – Kilauea Caldera. This is a magnificent 4 by 3.2 km large crater with walls that are up to 120 m high.

In the western part of this caldera is located a deep pit – Halemaumau Crater or, a more correct form – Halema’uma’u Crater – “house of the ‘āma’u fern”.

Halemaumau Crater and its lava lake

Halemaumau crater until the eruptions of 2018 was some 770 by 900 m large. The depth of it is unknown – for the most part of the time since the discovery this pit has been filled with a lava lake. And lava lakes… well, these easily could be the deepest lakes in the world, extending below the crust of the Earth.

Lava lake in Halemaumau Crater, 2014
Lava lake in Halemaumau Crater, 2014. / U.S. Geological Survey, Flickr / public domain

There are very few volcanoes in the world that have permanent or near-permanent lava lakes – some ten places around the world. The lava lake of Halemaumau Crater though is not exactly permanent… because now, in 2019 it’s gone.

At some periods of the time Kilauea volcano had one more lava lake some 18 km to the south-east, in another crater named Pu’u ‘Ō’ō. Here such a lake existed, for example, in 1986 – 1997 and 2011 – 2018. Currently (in 2019) there is no lava lake in this crater either.


Of course, Hawaiians knew about the volcano since their arrival – but there are no written sources. It is known that in 1790 there was a terrible, explosive eruption that killed people.

The first known description by Europeans is left by William Ellis, a missionary and geologist in 1823. It seems, already then there was a lava lake in the crater. Mark Twain observed the lava lake in 1866 and was enchanted by the incomparable beauty of this place.

In 1912 geologist Thomas Jaggar founded an observatory here. This area in 1916 became Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and step by step Kilauea turned into a scientific base for the exploration of geological processes as well as a top tourist destination as well.

There is much to explore and to see around the Kilauea volcano. Since 1952 there have been at least 34 eruptions, each of them different.

Eruption of Kīlauea volcano, 1954
Eruption of Kīlauea volcano, 1954 / USGS, public domain

Eruption in 1983 – 2018

The latest eruption started in 1983 and with some periods of silence continued up to 2018.

The lava lake in the crater changed a lot numerous times during this time period. For example, in April 2015 lava spilled over the rim of the crater on the floor of the caldera covering it with a 9 m thick layer. By late 2016 it was one of the largest lava lakes in the world, some 250 m by 190 m large.

After repeated floods of lava in May 2018, everything changed to the opposite. The level of the lava lake dropped and it disappeared at least 340 meters down in the crater. This was accompanied by powerful explosions and local earthquakes, from the crater rose clouds of hot ash and toxic gases. The walls of the crater started to collapse and the lake is not visible anymore.

This coincided with another event: lava started to pour out from the ground some 40 km to the east, in Leilani Estates. This idyllic Hawaiian village and other villages and resorts in the area were attacked by lava, which soon reached the sea, changing the coastline and covering with lava some 35 km2. Most likely the disappearance of the lava lake in Halemaumau is linked to this flood of lava.

The area was closed for visitors from May 10 to September 22. Now, in 2019 the eruption has stopped but the landslides around the crater continue – even the building of Jaggar Museum is endangered and abandoned. This was the largest eruption of Kilauea over the last 200 years.

In August 2019 it was reported that on the floor of the crater has appeared a rather common lake, consisting of… water. This water is fairly hot – around 70° C. (3)

Legends and ghost stories

Halemaumau Crater is a very important sacred site for Hawaiians and traditional offerings are made here up to this day.

According to the local beliefs, Halemaumau Crater is the abode of Pele – Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes. This goddess created the Hawaiian Islands and after lengthy wanderings and numerous battles found peace in this crater. Hawaiians call this place also Ka Piko o ka Honua – the Navel of the World.

People tell also that Pele appears to some people before dangerous eruptions. She is either an old woman or a young, beautiful lady in a red robe (muumuu) and accompanied by a small, white dog. Of course, one should be polite and help the goddess.

Halemaumau Crater from Jaggar Museum, 2018.
Halemaumau Crater from Jaggar Museum, 2018. / NPS Photo/Janice Wei, National Park Service / public domain

A weird silhouette has been noticed in several images of the eruption of Kilauea in 2018 and earlier. The silhouette of a black woman with glowing eyes is seen in a photograph of a lava stream falling in the sea.

One more belief of Kilauea: guests should not take anything from here – the stone from the summit of the volcano (or even anywhere on the island) will bring unhappiness at home. Reportedly, many visitors sent back to Hawaii such souvenirs after their families and houses have been hit by repeated calamities. Reading their letters is quite impressive.


  1. Chronology of Kīlauea’s summit eruption, 2008 – 2017, USGS website. Accessed on May 22, 2019
  2. Return Lava Rock to Hawaii!, Volcano Gallery. Accessed on May 22, 2019
  3. Scientists: Water on floor of Halemaumau Crater is hot. Really hot., Hawaii News Now. Accessed on August 08, 2019

Halemaumau Crater is included in the following article:

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