Introduction to Mauna Loa
Mauna Loa is among one of four volcanoes that make up the Big Island of Hawaii, which is the southernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago. Created when a volcanic hotspot in the Earth’s crust was moved over by the Pacific tectonic plate, Mauna Loa has been recorded as one of Hawaii's youngest volcanoes, with geologists estimating its first eruption to have been on the seafloor between 600,000 to 1 million years ago, emerging above sea level about 300,000 years ago. When measured from the seafloor to its peak, Mauna Loa is thought to have a volume of at least 18,000 cubic miles (75,000 cubic kilometers). With a height of roughly 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) over the Pacific Ocean, Mauna Loa is undoubtedly the largest volcano on Earth.
The eruption began on November 27, 2022 — around 11:30 P.M. local time. This terminated the volcano's 38-year dormancy, featuring lava that spewed 100-200 feet (30-60 meters) into the air. Its previous eruption occurred in March and April of 1984. After many strong earthquakes, the eruptive activity started at the summit. Afterward, it expanded to vents that developed in a rift zone, where the mountain is fracturing and magma easily emerges.
Ken Hon, the senior scientist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, opposes the idea of additional vents forming on the volcano’s southwest rift zone during this eruption ― expecting mercy from lava flows to be granted to western communities. However, citizens were still advised to be cautious as the location and direction of lava flow can shift rapidly. “Mauna Loa eruptions in particular tend to be very dynamic in their earliest days,” Dr. Rubin said, “Conditions on the ground can change fairly quickly.”
Impact and Hazards
Despite the summit area and several nearby highways being closed, Hawaii's authorities state that no evacuation orders have been issued. Volcanic gas, ash, and "Pele's Hair" — glass fibers created during a volcanic eruption — are all byproducts that can be carried downwind. People with respiratory issues were directed to stay indoors or wear cloth masks to prevent exposure to potentially hazardous particles as officials stated the potential of a quarter-inch of ash deposition.
Emergency personnel have advised residents who face lava flow hazards from Mauna Loa to start evaluating their emergency plans and to contact Hawaii County's civil defense for additional advice and other crucial details about the eruption. Additionally, Southwest Airlines issued a travel alert informing customers that flights to or from Hawaii may experience delays or cancellations due to the Mauna Loa volcanic activity. Ultimately, neither homes nor people were significantly threatened by Mauna Loa's most recent eruption. However, Mauna Loa may pose a risk to a major highway, some speculate; if lava blocked it, residents would have no access to the shortest route between the east and west sides of the Big Island.
Sources & Further Reading