Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 74, Issue 10, pp 2353–2362 | Cite as

Time-lapse camera observations of gas piston activity at Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō, Kīlauea volcano, Hawai‘i

  • Tim R. Orr
  • James C. Rea
Research Article


Gas pistoning is a type of eruptive behavior described first at Kīlauea volcano and characterized by the (commonly) cyclic rise and fall of the lava surface within a volcanic vent or lava lake. Though recognized for decades, its cause continues to be debated, and determining why and when it occurs has important implications for understanding vesiculation and outgassing processes at basaltic volcanoes. Here, we describe gas piston activity that occurred at the Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō cone, in Kīlauea’s east rift zone, during June 2006. Direct, detailed measurements of lava level, made from time-lapse camera images captured at close range, show that the gas pistons during the study period lasted from 2 to 60 min, had volumes ranging from 14 to 104 m3, displayed a slowing rise rate of the lava surface, and had an average gas release duration of 49 s. Our data are inconsistent with gas pistoning models that invoke gas slug rise or a dynamic pressure balance but are compatible with models which appeal to gas accumulation and loss near the top of the lava column, possibly through the generation and collapse of a foam layer.


Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō Kīlauea Hawai‘i Gas piston Gas slug 



We gratefully thank Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff and volunteers for field support, observations, and discussions about gas piston processes. Paul Wessel at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa provided the statistical analysis of gas release durations, for which we are appreciative. Careful and constructive reviews by Bruce Houghton, Dave Sherrod, Mike James, and Letizia Spampinato improved the manuscript greatly.

Supplementary material

Online Resource 1

Time-lapse movie (960 × 720 frame size; 10 fps; 1 min acquisition interval) showing gas pistons at Drainhole vent spanning period from 18:30 on June 2, 2006 to 02:00 on June 3, 2006. Movie includes sequence used to compile data for Fig. 5. (MOV 13608 kb)

Online Resource 2

Time-lapse movie (960 × 720 frame size; 10 fps; 1 min acquisition interval) showing gas pistons at Drainhole vent spanning period from 06:00 to 13:20 on June 3, 2006. Movie includes gas piston shown in Fig. 3. (MOV 12116 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg (outside the USA) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, U.S. Geological SurveyHawaii National ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Geology and GeophysicsUniversity of Hawai‘iHonoluluUSA

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