Mauna Loa's Eruption: What You Need To Know
Jan 10, 2024 By Juliana Daniel

There has been no need to issue evacuation notices because lava poses no threat to human habitation. Some volcanic gases, including sulfur dioxide, are being released from Mauna Loa. Volcanic smog, also referred to as vog, is the result of the interaction of dust and water vapor in the atmosphere of an active volcano with sunlight.

In light of this, state health officials advise discouraging strenuous physical activity, such as exercising outside or engaging in other activities that require deep breathing. As recently as 1984, Mauna Loa erupted. Kilauea, a neighboring volcano, is smaller but more active and has been spewing nonstop since September 2021.

Where Is The Mauna Loa?

The Big Island of Hawaii, often known as the southernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago, comprises five volcanoes, one of which is Mauna Loa. It is not the tallest mountain on the island, but it does take up roughly half of the island's total area.

Located just to the north of the famous Kilauea volcano, which in 2018 destroyed 700 homes and spread lava rivers through farmland and into the ocean, this area is in the path of the molten rock.

The volcano Mauna Loa has not erupted for the past 38 years. As of this writing, this is the volcano's 34th eruption since records began being kept in 1843. The Big Island is primarily agricultural, including cattle ranches and coffee crops.

Why Does Mauna Loa Keep Erupting?

After a string of big earthquakes on Sunday night, the eruption began near the peak. The explosion quickly reached vents in the mountain's rift zone, where magma may more easily escape due to the mountain's cracking.

Lava erupting from these vents on the mountain's northeast flank may go toward Hilo, located on the island's eastern coast. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory director and scientist Ken Hon have stated that he does not anticipate any new vents opening up on the volcano's southwest rift zone during this eruption. That implies anyone living west of the volcano won't have to worry about lava flows.

In 1984, Mauna Loa also had an eruption from the northeast. At that time, the lava flowed in the direction of Hilo but halted a safe distance away. Mauna Loa eruptions have typically lasted a few weeks. Hon believes that the latest outbreak will follow the same pattern.

Are Volcanoes Mauna Loa and St. Helens Exploding?

Unlike the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state, which took the lives of 57 people, Mauna Loa is not causing a mass exodus of residents. That eruption caused ash to be hurled over 80,000 feet into the air and fall as far as 250 miles away.

Mount St. Helens' magma is significantly more likely to erupt as it rises because it is stickier and holds more gas. Specifically, it belongs to the class of composite volcanoes, which have the shape of concave cones.

Magma from Mauna Loa is often hotter, drier, and more vicious. That's what's letting the gas in the magma escape and letting the lava pour down the volcano's flank. Long, broadsides created by numerous lava flows give Mauna Loa, a shield volcano, the appearance of a warrior's shield, thus the name.

Another composite volcano, Alaska's Redoubt Volcano, released an 8-mile cloud of ash in 1989, which jammed all four engines of a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines airplane. After losing 13,000 feet in altitude, the plane managed to land safely with all 245 passengers on board.

What Dangers Does Mauna Loa's Eruption Pose?

Lava:

Depending on the direction of the lava flows, it might destroy homes, crops, and entire neighborhoods. However, it is expected to take lava from the northeast rift zone at least a week to reach inhabited areas, giving people plenty of time to leave if necessary.

Volcanic Gas:

Volcanic gases, primarily sulfur dioxide, are being released from Mauna Loa. Areas close to the crater or vents near the peak have the highest gas concentrations. However, when they join forces with other particles, they create vog, which may travel throughout the Big Island and even to the other islands.

Glass Particles:

Pele's hair and tears are the glass particles formed when hot lava emerges from a fissure and swiftly cools; they are called after the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes.

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