The Eruption We Cannot See

Aerial view of rugged coastline with billowing steam and bright red lava flows

Wednesday, May 25, 2022
12:00-1:00 p.m. Pacific Time




Check out this video to watch the The Eruption We Cannot See: Using Underwater Sounds to Study the Growth of Kilauea Volcano.

The Eruption We Cannot See

Using Underwater Sounds to Study the Growth of Kilauea Volcano

Brought to you by WWU's Geology Department and the College of Science and Engineering in partnership with the WWU Alumni Association

The 2018 eruption Kilauea Volcano was unprecedented in the volcano’s monitored history.  Over a four-month period, the eruption destroyed over 700 structures, created more than 800 acres of new land, and caused the collapse of the summit caldera. Over 750 million cubic meters of lava was erupted during this event, and more than half of it was emplaced offshore, under the sea. Little is known about the fate of these submarine lavas or their impact on the growth and stability of the volcano. Noises generated by the interaction of lava and seawater, however, could provide a means of monitoring offshore lava flows.

In July-September 2018, a network of 10 ocean-bottom seismometers and hydrophones (underwater microphones) was deployed on Kilauea’s submarine south flank, to record earthquakes and explosions generated by the eruption. The signals recorded by these instruments are shown to be caused by lava-water interactions from lava pouring over the coastline and generating new land. However, we found that massive coastal explosions, including one that injured 23 people on a tour boat, were not well recorded by the hydrophone network. This suggests that sounds generated near the coast were blocked from reaching the deep ocean, and that lava must have traveled a significant distance offshore before it was detected by the hydrophones. These recordings, as well as photographic evidence from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, confirm substantial lava emplacement in the offshore domain and provide a means by which flank growth and flank stability may be more completely understood.

Aerial view of bright orange and red lava flow
Jackie Caplan-Auerbach

Jackie Caplan-Auerbach


Jackie is the associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering, as well as a professor in the Geology Department. Jackie’s undergraduate years were spent at Yale University where she earned degrees in both Physics and English. In 2001 Jackie earned her PhD in geophysics from the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa, after which she spent five years working for the Alaska Volcano Observatory, first at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and then as a Mendenhall Postdoc with the U.S. Geological Survey. She has been at Western since 2006, teaching about topics ranging from introductory geology to earthquake seismology to mantle convection.

Kristina Walowski

Kristina Walowski


Kristina is a new assistant professor of Geology at Western Washington University. For her research, she utilizes the chemistry of minerals and melt inclusions (tiny blobs of magma trapped in crystals) and the physical properties of volcanic rocks to study a range of processes including magma reservoir evolution and volcanic eruption dynamics, to mantle melting and the chemical evolution of Earth's interior. She primarily teaches courses in Mineralogy, Igneous Petrology, Geochemistry, and Volcanology, but also enjoys teaching Field Geology, Natural Hazards, and Tectonics.

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