Big Island officials are warning residents that Mauna Loa Volcano – the largest of the five volcanoes that make up the island – is showing increasing signs of activity, which could signal a coming eruption.
“Not to panic everybody, but they have to be aware of that you live on the slopes of Mauna Loa,” said the administrator for Hawaii County Civil Defense, Talmadge Magno. “There’s a potential for some kind of lava disaster.”
Volcanologists say that an eruption is not imminent, but that a recent spike in earthquakes at the summit is raising an eyebrow.
According to the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, the volcano “continues to be in a state of heightened unrest with increased small-magnitude earthquakes below Mokuʻāweoweo caldera and the upper northwest flank,” adding that both the above regions have “historically been seismically active during periods of unrest on Mauna Loa.”
In other words, activity in these regions could be a sign of something to come.
If you had forgotten or overlooked Mauna Loa, it could be forgiven. With its little bro Kilauea erupting almost continuously since the mid 80s, Mauna Loa’s status as an active volcano has been put firmly on the back burner. The last time it erupted was 1984, around the same time Kilauea began its run. Its lava flow nearly wiped out Hilo, stopping just four miles from town.
Mauna Loa is the largest volcano in the world by mass, and its slopes make up more than 50% of the Big Island’s landmass. Its summit reaches a height of 13,679 feet. Given its stature, it’s no wonder experts are worried about its potential for destruction.
Since it seems as if Mauna Loa will, at the very least, be a point of discussion going forward the next few months, we recommend reading two recently-published documents to get up to speed the world’s largest volcano:
Mauna Loa Geonarrative: This document “provides an overview of Mauna Loa’s eruptive history and hazards and includes interactive maps and datasets to help residents prepare for the next eruption.” Using visual media, it does a great job of explaining the basics of Mauna Loa, now and then, and puts its prowess and potential in context.
Mauna Loa FAQ: If you have specific and/or basic questions about Mauna Loa, this Q&A will be extremely useful. Topics include the current status of the volcano, how the Volcano Alert Level is determined, the hazards and consequences of an eruption, what the name Mauna Loa means, what scientists are doing to predict the next eruption, and more.