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Long-lasting Eruption of Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii Leads to Volcanic-Air Pollution
In 1986 the eruption of Kilauea Volcano changed from the episodic fountaining of lava and gas at Pu`u O`o cone every few weeks to the continuous outpouring of lava from a new vent only 3 kilometers away. The volcano began releasing a large, steady supply of sulfur dioxide gas into the atmosphere. During the episodic activity, enough time had elapsed between fountaining episodes for the prevailing trade winds (brisk winds from the northeast of Hawai`i) to blow volcanic gas away from the island. When the eruption style changed, however, the daily release of as much as 2,000 tons of sulfur dioxide gas led to a persistent air pollution problem downwind. The sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas released reacts chemically with sunlight, oxygen, dust particles, and water in the air to form a mixture of sulfate (S04-2) aerosols (tiny particles and droplets), sulfuric acid (H2SO4), and other oxidized sulfur species. Together, this gas and aerosol mixture produces a hazy atmospheric condition known as volcanic smog or "vog." The condition is illustrated with 7 photographs, a shaded-relief map of the Island of Hawai`i showing the wind patterns, and a diagram of 1992-1997 SO2 emissions rates from Kilauea Volcano's east rift zone.
Intended for grade levels:
  • Middle (6-8)
  • High (9-12)
  • College (13-14)
Type of resource:
  • Visual:
    • Map
    • Photograph
  • Text:
    • Ref. material
  • Atmospheric science
  • Environmental science
  • Natural hazards
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Information presented on this website is considered public information and may be distributed or copied. Use of appropriate byline/photo/image credit is requested.
DLESE Catalog ID: DLESE-000-000-000-312
Resource contact / Creator / Publisher:
Publisher: United States Geological Survey, Volcano Hazards Program

Contact: United States Geological Survey

Author: J. D. Griggs
United States Geological Society (USGS)

Author: M. T. Mangan
United States Geological Society (USGS)

Author: R. W. Decker
United States Geological Society (USGS)

Author: S. R. Brantley
United States Geological Society (USGS)

Author: C. C. Heliker
United States Geological Society (USGS)