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Scientists: We Know Why Kilauea Got Triggered

Theory suggests heavy rain increased pore pressure, but other scientists are doubtful
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 23, 2020 1:25 PM CDT
Updated Apr 26, 2020 10:23 AM CDT

(Newser) – Climate change could usher in more volcanic eruptions, according to new research focusing on the 2018 Kilauea eruptions in Hawaii. The research published Wednesday in Nature suggests the Kilauea eruptions were triggered by months of extreme rainfall, which included a 24-hour period that set a US record. The idea is that water penetrated volcanic rock pores some 1.8 miles below the surface, causing pore pressure to reach its highest level in 47 years, reports the New York Times. Per the Guardian, this would've weakened the rock (in a process similar to hydraulic fracturing), allowing magma to escape. In analyzing Kilauea eruptions since 1790, Jamie Farquharson and Falk Amelung of the University of Miami found 60% of eruptions occurred during the five-month rainy season from November to March.

While rainfall has been linked to shallow eruptions, "this is the first time an impact at depth has been found," per the Guardian. It's not a new idea, though. The geologist JD Dana suggested rainfall played a role in Kilauea eruptions back in the 1800s. Interestingly, scientists spotted water at the bottommost part of Kilauea's crater in August 2019, per Live Science, which reported it was "the first time water has been found to exist on the volcano." But other scientists doubt the peak pressure described in the study would've been enough. Michael Poland of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory argues the eruptions were instead caused by a "kink in the hose," as lava flowing from the crater had diminished. If the new theory is correct, however, climate change, expected to bring more "prolonged periods of extreme rainfall," could increase eruptions, the scientists say. (Read more Kilauea volcano stories.)

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