Kilauea: Why 5.5-Magnitude Earthquake May Only Be the Beginning

More aftershocks could be coming after 500 quakes hit the summit area over the weekend.

by Josie Rhodes Cook

The Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency reported a magnitude 5.5 earthquake on Sunday that shook the Kilauea volcano summit and even led to some evacuations in the area. But the earthquake may be just the beginning when it comes to activity around Kilauea, and residents who chose to stay may be in for a rough time. Aftershocks are likely to continue, according to CNN, and Hawaii Civil Defense Service officials warned that residents should get out now because escape routes may eventually be cut off by lava.

A Warning From Mother Nature

The latest 5.5 magnitude earthquake on the Big Island was the largest earthquake to occur there since a 6.9 earthquake struck Hawaii on May 4, according to the Daily Express. And scientists are unsure whether changes to the surface of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano indicate that the lava on the island may stop flowing or whether the changes are warning that a bigger explosion may be on the horizon.

According to Brian Shiro, a supervisory geophysicist at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, who spoke with CNN, the 500 quakes in the summit area of Kilauea that rocked the area over a 24-hour period this weekend were the highest rate ever measured there. On Sunday, three people were evacuated from the Kapoho community on the island, but some chose to stay behind in spite of the possibility they may not be able to get out later.

More Explosions May Be Coming

Even before the earthquake hit, experts were concerned by aerial footage released by the US Geological Survey that showed loose boulders filling the vent inside the Halema‘uma‘u crater at the summit of the Kilauea volcano. Kyle Anderson, a geophysicist for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, told the New York Post:

It’s possible that new explosions will blast through the rubble at the bottom of the vent. These may or may not be larger than the previous explosions.

The earthquake also resulted in an ash plume reaching up to 8,000 feet. “Vog,” or volcanic smog, is already an issue on the island thanks to volcanic pollutants mixing with moisture and dust, and this new ash plume likely won’t help matters.

Kilauea volcano lava

Wikimedia / Earthstronaut

Aftershocks Possible

While the earthquake did not cause a tsunami threat, the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency said the fallout will impact the volcano and areas around Pahala, CNN reported. The agency also cautioned about the possibility of future aftershocks.

Experts aren’t completely sure what Kilauea and the area around it will do next. But Sunday’s earthquake may unfortunately only be the beginning for the people of Hawaii’s Big Island.