Mauna Loa: World’s largest active volcano erupts in Hawaii
A satellite has captured stunning images of the Mauna Loa eruption from space, as crowds flock to the Hawaii volcano to watch the rare event.
The photos, taken when the eruption began on 28 November, were released after the US Geological Survey warned there was a “high probability” a stream of molten lava would reach a main highway on Hawaii’s Big Island.
Officials are preparing for the possibility that the Daniel K Inouye Highway, which connects the communities of Hilo and Kona, could be shut down within the week despite the flow slowing its advance.
“It’ll probably come around the north side of Pu’u Huluhulu, which is right at the Mauna Kea turnoff on Saddle Road,” said Ken Hon, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientist-in-charge, at a news conference Wednesday.
The lava flow was previously moving at a rate of 130 meters an hour, but as of Thursday night, Mr Hon confirmed that it had slowed to just 30 yards per hour as the lava hit flat terrain.
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Although an eruption isn’t imminent, scientists are on alert because of a recent spike in earthquakes at the volcano’s summit. Experts say it would take just a few hours for lava to reach homes closest to the volcano, which last erupted in 1984.
Hawaii officials are warning residents of the Big Island to prepare for the possibility that the world’s largest active volcano may erupt given a recent spike in earthquakes at the summit of Mauna Loa
How many people are in danger?
Although there is no immediate danger to communities on Hawaii’s Big Island, officials have warned residents to be ready for the worst.
Many current residents weren’t living there when Mauna Loa last erupted 38 years ago. The US Geological Survey warned the roughly 200,000 people on the Big Island that an eruption “can be very dynamic, and the location and advance of lava flows can change rapidly.”
The eruption began late Sunday night following a series of fairly large earthquakes, said Ken Hon, the scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
There’s been a surge of development on the Big Island in recent decades — its population has more than doubled, from 92,000 in 1980.
Most of the people on the island live in the city of Kailua-Kona to the west of the volcano, which has about 23,000 people, and Hilo to the east, with about 45,000. Officials were most worried about several subdivisions about 30 miles to the south of the volcano, which are home to about 5,000 people.
Hawaii transport agency issues guidance to air passengers
The Hawaii Department of Transportation has issued guidance to air passengers in light of the eruption of Mauna Loa as the situation develops.
Hawaii Island Passengers with flights to Hilo International Airport (ITO) or the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA) should check with their airline prior to heading to the airport due to the volcanic activity at Mauna Loa.
How are volcanic eruptions impacted by climate change?
While the eruption of Mauna Loa is a rare occurrence, the climate crisis could lead to more volcanic activity, some scientists say.
The greenhouse gas emissions heating the planet are melting glaciers and in turn destabilizing mountains, creating conditions for volcanic eruptions that were previously restrained.
“Imagine the ice like some sort of protective layer – when the ice melts away, the mountain is free to collapse,” Gioachino Roberti, a PhD student researching volcanic activity at the University of Clermont Auvergne, previously told The Independent. “If your mountain is a volcano you have another problem. Volcanoes are a pressurised system and if you remove pressure by ice melting and landslide, you have a problem.”
Louise Boyles reports.
Lava flows contained to the summit area with no threat to communities downslope, but the situation is being closely monitored
Why didn’t Mauna Loa explode like Mount St Helens?
Fifty-seven people died when Washington state’s Mount St Helens erupted in 1980 and blasted more than 1,300ft (400m) off the top of the mountain. Steam, rocks and volcanic gas burst upward and outward. A plume of volcanic ash rose over 80,000ft (24,384m) and rained down as far as 250 miles (400km) away.
Hawaii volcanoes like Mauna Loa tend not to have explosion eruptions like this.
That’s because their magma is hotter, drier and more fluid, said Hannah Dietterich, a research geophysicist at the US Geological Survey’s Alaska Volcano Observatory.
The magma in Mount St Helens tends to be stickier and traps more gas, making it much more likely to explode when it rises.
The gas in the magma of Hawaii’s volcanoes tends to escape, and so lava flows down the side of their mountains when they erupt.
Hawaii’s volcanoes are called shield volcanoes because successive lava flows over hundreds of thousands of years build broad mountains that resemble the shape of a warrior’s shield.
Shield volcanos are also found in California and Idaho as well as Iceland and the Galapagos Islands. Alaska’s Wrangell-St Elias National Park has eight shield volcanoes including Mount Wrangell.
Volcanoes like Mount St. Helens are called composite or stratovolcanoes. Their steep, conical slopes are built by the eruption of viscous lava flows and rock, ash and gas. Japan’s Mount Fuji is another example of a composite volcano.
VIDEO: Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano is erupting
A flare and a spare: Hawaii volcano visitors see 2 eruptions
“The viewing has been spectacular,” especially at night and before sunrise, park spokesperson Jessica Ferracane said.
Visitors to the park are currently able to witness two eruptive events: the glow from Kilauea’s lava lake and lava from a Mauna Loa fissure.
“This is a rare time where we have two eruptions happening simultaneously,” Ferracane said.
Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984. The current eruption is its 34th since written history began in 1843. Its smaller neighbor, Kilauea, has been erupting since September 2021.
The first eruption in 38 years of the world’s largest active volcano is drawing visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Concerns grow that lava is moving towards road
Scientists assure public following worries about South Kona community
Officials were initially concerned that lava flowing down Mauna Loa would head toward the community of South Kona, but scientists later assured the public the eruption had migrated to a rift zone on the volcano’s northeast flank and wasn’t threatening communities.
The lava was flowing “not super fast” at less than 1 mph, Ken Hon, scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said Tuesday. It was moving downhill about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from Saddle Road, which connects the eastern and western sides of Hawaii’s Big Island.
The flow was likely to slow down about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) from the road, when it hits flatter ground.
It was not clear when or if the lava will reach the road.
The smell of volcanic gases and sulfur was thick Tuesday along Saddle Road, where people watched the wide stream of lava creep closer. Clouds cleared to reveal a large plume of gas and ash rising from a vent on the mountain.
Viewers flock to eruption of world’s largest volcano
The world’s largest volcano oozed rivers of glowing lava Wednesday, drawing thousands of awestruck viewers who jammed a Hawaiian highway that could soon be covered by the flow.
Mauna Loa awoke from its 38-year slumber Sunday, causing volcanic ash and debris to drift down from the sky. A main highway linking towns on the east and west coasts of the Big Island became an impromptu viewing point, with thousands of cars jamming the highway near Volcanoes National Park.
Anne Andersen left her overnight shift as a nurse to see the spectacle Wednesday, afraid that the road would soon be closed.
“It’s Mother Nature showing us her face,” she said, as the volcano belched gas on the horizon. “It’s pretty exciting.”
Gordon Brown, a visitor from Loomis, California, could see the bright orange lava from the bedroom of his rental house. So he headed out for a close-up view with his wife.
“We just wanted … to come see this as close as we could get. And it is so bright, it just blows my mind,” Brown said.
The lava was tumbling slowly down the slope and was about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the highway known as Saddle Road. It was not clear when, or if, it would cover the road, which runs through old lava flows.
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