L: Kilauea R: Fuego

Kilauea and Fuego have both erupted in recent months, but what makes the eruptions so different?

Continuing seismic activity at Kilauea has caused eruptions of varying magnitudes, releasing ash and volcanic gas into the atmosphere. 

Hawaii’s most active volcano has erupted for more than a month, with thousands of earthquakes and a continuing channel of lava flowing into the ocean. 

The latest earthquake struck at 4am local time (3.00pm BST) with a magnitude of 5.4 and the United States Geological Survey have warned to expect ashfall in the wake of the latest explosion.

Whilst Hawaii’s volcanic activity rumbles on, Guatemala’s has seemed to steady, but this doesn’t mean that the eruption has been any less deadly. 

Volcan de Fuego in Guatemala erupted on June 3, sending cataclysmic pyroclastic lava into nearby towns and villages, burying structures and the natural landscape in dense volcanic mud. 

Around 200 people remain missing in Guatemala, with rescue attempts having to halt every so often due to the unsteady environment the eruption has created.

What makes Fuego and Kilauea’s eruptions so different?

XRF Geochemist Dr Tom Knott spoke to express.co.uk about the difference between the two volcanoes: “If we compare Fuego with Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano this is an example of a shield volcano. 

“Here the magma is of a ‘mafic’ composition, meaning higher Iron and Magnesium and importantly lower silicate content, this results in a runnier magma – low viscosity. 

“In a magma of low viscosity, beneath Kilauea volcano, gases can escape from the melt much easier, resulting in more gentle effusive eruptions.”

Dr Knott say Fuego in Guatemala is an entirely different volcano and therefore has entirely different eruptions: “In contrast, Volcan de Fuego is an example of a stratovolcano. 

“Here the magma is of a more ‘felsic’ composition, much higher silicate content, resulting in a ‘stickier’ more viscous magma. 

Laze plume rising from the ocean

A large plume of laze rising from the ocean in Hawaii

Volcanic mud after Guatemala's eruption

Guatemala’s eruption has left dense volcanic mud covering villages

“As magma of this type ascends to the surface via a volcanic conduit any dissolved volatiles rapidly expand within the melt but struggle to escape. 

“This leads to an intense build-up of pressure resulting in a much more explosive and violent eruption.”

The difference in the magma composition is what creates a difference in eruption.

Kilauea’s more liquid lava enables gases to escape much easier than Fuego’s stickier magma. 

A stickier magma traps gases, causing them to expand and eventually erupt explosively when reaching the surface.

Big Island’s volcano continues to spew lava in a channel travelling north and then eastward into the ocean. 

Scientists remain unable to predict when the activity at Kilauea will cease, with earthquakes hitting the summit in hundreds every day. 

Rescue efforts in Guatemala have begun again after a week-long suspension due to unsafe conditions.

Currently, the death toll stands at 110, whilst 200 people remain listed as missing.

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