Kilauea, Hawaii Eruption 2018

Start Date

May 3, 2018


Explore the new NASA Disasters: Kilauea Airborne Science story map which highlights NASA’s ongoing airborne efforts to understand the volcanic eruption and provide impactful data to responders, by leveraging a high-resolution instrument created to study glaciers.

On May 3rd 2018, the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island erupted from new fissures and sent lava flowing over streets and neighborhoods. As the disaster response on the ground lead by the U.S. Geological Survey kicked into gear, managers from NASA’s Earth Science Disasters Program heard from response agencies and sent out a call to NASA’s own researchers, data managers, and satellite teams: What can we do to help?

Detailed view of the Leilani Estates showing the previous rift and an overlaid infrared image of the new rift (acquired May 14th by the Landsat 8 OLI)

Detailed view of the Leilani Estates showing the previous rift and an overlaid infrared image of the new rift (acquired May 14th by the Landsat 8 OLI)

With an array of sophisticated Earth-observing sensors in orbit and partnerships with space agencies around the globe, NASA had a lot of assets to offer.

“One of the first things emergency responders wanted to know was where the lava was coming out, where are all the fissures,” said J. Carver Struve, NASA emergency management co-lead at NASA Headquarters in Washington who coordinates the organization and distribution of data and satellite imagery from seven NASA centers.

In total, seven instruments onboard five NASA, JAXA, and other partner satellites provided key information on eruption patterns and atmospheric impacts of the Kilauea eruption. These included detection of active fissures, fires, ash and sulfur dioxide plumes, deformation of the ground caused by magma movement, and the height and composition of volcanic plumes. Even astronauts onboard the International Space Station were able to view the eruption, sending digital camera images to the USGS and response community. The European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency also contributed data to the effort.

The VIIRS instrument on NASA's Suomi NPP satellite showed this enhanced nighttime image on May 15th, 2018 superimposed with thermal anomalies (red points)

The VIIRS instrument on the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite showed this enhanced nighttime image on May 15 superimposed with thermal anomalies (red points). 

Feedback from responders in Hawaii using the data has led to the creation of additional data products tailored to their immediate needs. "We're providing actionable scientific products to teams on the ground to support response activities and fill any gaps they may have in their information as the disaster is evolving," said Struve.

In addition to providing data to support recovery and resilience planning, NASA has a long-standing research effort to understand volcanic processes before, during and after eruptions, insights that can also serve as a window into understanding volcanoes on other planets. The current Kilauea eruption is an opportunity to evaluate the performance of instruments to estimate lava flow rates and volume, crucial parameters in volcanic models.

NASA is contributing to the understanding of the eruption using airborne assets. The G-III research aircraft is flying an all-weather, high-resolution instrument called the Glacier and Ice Surface Topography Interferometer (GLISTIN) that was developed to study small changes in ice sheets. The science team, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, previously used GLISTIN to study the surface topography of Kilauea’s East Rift Zone.

A sequence of repeat flights during the current eruption are using GLISTIN to detect changes in Kilauea's topography associated with the new lava flows, with the goal of measuring the erupted volume as a function of time and ultimately the total volume of the event. Such observations are extremely useful to quantitatively evaluate models for evolution of volcanic processes.

Latest Updates

May 26, 2018
ALOS-2 interferogram from June 23rd, 2018 acquisition relative to June 9th, 2018.
The Advanced Land Observing Satellite-2 (ALOS-2), a Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) satellite, is a follow-on mission from the "DAICHI", which contributed to cartography, regional observation, disaster monitoring, and resource surveys. ALOS-2 will succeed this mission with enhanced capabilities. Specifically, JAXA is conducting research and development activities to improve wide and high-resolution observation technologies developed for DAICHI in order to further fulfill social needs. Each interferometric synthetic aperature radar (InSAR) image, or interferogram, shows the amount...
May 6, 2018
MISR highlights June 23rd 2018
June 23rd, 2018 Volcanic eruptions can generate significant amounts of atmospheric aerosols that often have regional to global impacts. To determine the influence of volcanic eruptions, accurate plume heights are needed, but are difficult to obtain  due to the hazardous nature of such eruptions. Stereo images from NASA’s Multi-Angle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR) make it possible to map plume heights in ongoing eruptions using parallax in the stereo imagery. We can also...
June 6, 2018
VIIRS fires and thermal anomalies from 6/8/18, with VIIRS nighttime basemap. VIIRS fires and thermal anomalies from 6/6/18, with VIIRS nighttime basemap. VIIRS fires and thermal anomalies from 6/6/18...
June 11, 2018
ALOS-2 interferogram comparing data from 1/30/18 vs. 5/8/18.  The above map shows ALOS-2 SAR scenes acquired in January 2018 and May 8, 2018 and shows the early opening of the lower East Rift Zone before May 8. In this first map there is a zone approximately 1.5 km wide where there is little motion of the surface, indicating that the magma injection is primarily around 1-2 km below the surface in this early stage.  In both maps, I overlaid in green...
May 18, 2018
Sentinel 2 data from June 2nd 2018
June 2nd, 2018: This Sentinel 2B Short Wave IR data shows the progress of the new lava channel toward the Kapoho Bay on June, 2nd around 9pm UTC (11 am HST). At that time, the flow head was around ~ 1500 yards (1.4 km) from the Kapoho Bay and the lastest USGS report (June 4th at 12 am HST) indicates that the Lava was only at 245 Yards (220 m) 37 hours later, giving an average speed of 34 yards/h. USGS indicates that Laze is likely to form at the entry...