Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Celebrates Its "Stand-Alone" Birthday and Kilauea Provides the Fireworks

Lava lake and fire fountains at Halema‘uma‘u crater in May 1954. USGS photo by J. P. Eaton.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park came into being as a component of Hawaii National Park, which was established on 1 August 1916. However, it celebrates its 47th anniversary as a stand-alone unit on September 22. The fireworks are appropriately being provided by Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. An eruption that began on March 19 at the Kilauea summit within the Halema‘uma‘u crater was the first fresh lava eruption there since 1982 and the first explosive event there since 1924. It has already yielded a half-dozen explosive eruptions and an intermittently roiling lake of lava below the summit crater rim.

Residents of neighboring communities as well as park visitors can see a mile-high ash plume produced by what Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists are calling a “rare and unprecedented” event.

Visitors are required to remain at a safe distance, and with good reason. The half dozen or so explosive eruptions have scattered rocks, frothy lava, molten blobs, and spatter over at least 75 acres, covering part of Crater Rim Drive, trails, the Halema‘uma‘u scenic overlook, and a parking lot in the vicinity. Emission levels for sulfur dioxide (SO2), an invisible and very dangerous gas, have at times been more than ten times normal, attaining the highest levels (up to 2,000 tons per day) seen in nearly three decades.

For current information about SO2 emissions and related air quality at Hawaii Volcanoes, see this site.

The prevailing northeast trade winds can be expected to blow SO2 fumes from the volcano away from visitor areas, but volcanic fumes may impact visitor areas if winds become unusually weak or shift to the south. When that happens, it may be necessary to close the park temporarily.

Given that the hazards associated with the eruptions can increase abruptly and without warning, park officials are taking no chances. There are contingency plans for evacuating the park and moving administrative functions to temporary workspace in Hilo and the park’s Kahuku unit. Meanwhile, dozens of park employees in the field wear SO2 detection badges for monitoring gas levels throughout the park.

To protect visitors, areas of the park most affected by the ongoing eruption have been temporarily closed to the public. For example, the portion of Crater Rim Drive between Jaggar Museum and the Chain of Craters Road junction is closed, and so are all the trails leading to and across Kilauea Crater. A current list of all the closed routes and areas is available at this site.

These are indeed interesting times at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.


How did you come up with 47th anniversary? The park was established in 1916 (yes, same year as the NPS) and is planning for its centennial in 2016. There was a name change (from Hawaii National Park) and split from Haleakala a while ago, perhaps 47 years, but don't take away half the park's history!

Not guilty. There was no separate Hawaii Volcanoes National Park until 1961. Only in 1961 did HAVO finally split away from Haleakala and become a stand alone unit of the National Park System. In light of this, the National Park Service specifies September 22, 1961, as the official date of HAVO's establishment . Visit this site to confirm this. We use the official NPS date here at Traveler when we do these anniversary articles, and that's why we didn't use the August 1, 1916, date you prefer. That said, I agree with your basic gripe.

Thank you for the coverage of the national parks in Hawaii.

These are some of the most exciting parks in the System. Beyond all the wonderful things about them, I will never forget the experience of standing a only few feet back on the Big Island watching the lava flow wipe out a section of road as it moved down to the sea.

What was exciting was seeing the newest land in America being created right before my eyes.

To see an example of what Jim is talking about, see the photo at this site. I took a similar photo on Chain of Craters Road in 1992, but darned if I know what I did with it.