The discovery offers new insight into the largely unknown internal plumbing of volcanoes, scientists at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science reported Wednesday.
The finding at the world's most active volcano is the first geophysical observation that large magma chambers exist in the deeper parts of a volcano system, they said.
The scientists analyzed seismic waves moving through the volcano to understand the internal structure of the volcanic system, finding a lava chamber at least a mile in diameter and located at a depth of 5 miles to 6.8 miles.
"It was known before that Kilauea had small, shallow magma chambers," geologists and lead study author Guoqing Lin said. "This study is the first geophysical observation that large magma chambers exist in the deep oceanic crust below."
The magma reservoir below Kilauea is similar to those widely observed beneath volcanoes located at mid-ocean ridges, the researchers said.
"Understanding these magma bodies are a high priority because of the hazard posed by the volcano," said geophysics Professor Falk Amelung, the study co-author. "Kilauea volcano produces many small earthquakes and paying particular attention to new seismic activity near this body will help us to better understand where future lava eruptions will come from."