By Peter Dockrill
Kīlauea was taking its time. In 1983, the volcano on the island of Hawaii began to erupt, and it didn’t stop for 35 years, culminating in the longest-running eruption of its kind in centuries.
In 2018, when this decades-long outpouring finally quit, Kīlauea ended things with a bang. A series of new eruptive fissures tore open in the volcano’s East Rift Zone, producing gushing fountains of scorching lava that engulfed whole neighbourhoods.
By the time the outburst had subsided, over 35 square kilometres (13 square miles) of the Big Island had been covered in lava flows, destroying hundreds of homes.
What triggered this explosive calamity, after decades of slow, effusive flows? While scientists generally agree that the 2018 event was likely produced by a build-up of magmatic pressure at the volcano combined with long-term weakening in the rift zone, they nonetheless concede that the exact initiation mechanism remains enigmatic.
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