The 2018 Rift Eruption and Summit Collapse of Kīlauea Volcano, Hawai’i: An Eruption Overview and What We Have Learned so Far

Ashton Flinders, Ph.D.
Research Geophysicist

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, 3:10pm

The 2018 lower East Rift Zone eruption of Kīlauea, Hawai‘i, marked a dramatic change in the volcano’s the ongoing 35-year-long rift zone eruption. After the collapse of the middle East Rift Zone vent Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō on 30 April, 2018, magma propagated downrift with eruptive fissures opening in the lower East Rift Zone residential subdivision of Leilani Estates. A Mw 6.9 earthquake on 4 May produced ~5 meters of fault slip, possibly helping to sustain the eruption. Lava erupted at rates exceeding 100 cubic meters per second, eventually covering 35.5 square kilometers. The eruption was one of the volcano’s most voluminous eruptions in 500 years. Over the course of this 3-month eruption, the draining of summit-stored magma led to near-daily collapses of the summit caldera, with each collapse producing a Mw 4.7 to 5.4 earthquake, and ultimately up to 500 m of summit subsidence. Activity declined rapidly on 4 August, 2018. Careful historical observation and monitoring of Kīlauea enabled successful forecasting of hazardous events. Here we present a summary of the eruption and an overview of current and ongoing research related to this historic eruption.


Ashton Flinders is a research geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Science Center, currently assigned to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory as a Presidential Management Fellow. Prior to moving to Hawaii in 2019, he was a Mendenhall post-doctoral fellow at the California Volcano Observatory. He holds master's degrees in Geology and Geophysics from the University of Hawaii, and Ocean Engineering with a focus on Ocean Mapping from UNH CCOM, where he worked on multibeam data compilations in the Arctic Ocean with Dr. Larry Mayer. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, focusing on applications of high-performance computing to seismic tomography and 3D elastic wave simulations. As part of his current fellowship, he is currently on a four-month detail to NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.