Mauna Loa Erupts

By Nadia Liu

Public Relations

The world’s largest active volcano, Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, began erupting after being dormant for 38 years, shooting lava to heights of up to 148 feet. The volcano began showing signs of eruption in mid-September, as scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory detected magma filling up in the summit accompanied by large earthquakes. The advance rate of the lava flow is unpredictable and highly variable, threatening nearby infrastructure. Located 21 miles away from Mauna Loa is another actively erupting volcano, Kilauea, creating a rare dual-eruption event.

Mauna Loa makes up roughly 51 percent of Hawaii’s big island, and the land mass it encompasses is almost twice all the other Hawaiian islands combined. Historically, the volcano’s eruptions include long traveling, high volume lava flows. For many Hawaiians, lava flows are spiritually significant, indicating a time to pray, make offerings, and honor both the natural and spiritual worlds. Ilihia Gionson, a Hawaii Tourism Authority spokesperson who is Native Hawaiian, describes volcanic eruptions as “a physical manifestation of so many natural and spiritual forces for Hawaiians.”

Tourists have flocked to the island to see the volcano. According to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency, the influx of tourists has caused authorities to implement a special one-way traffic hazard safety route on Daniel K. Inouye Highway, which will provide “safe viewing of lava flows.” 

Authorities began worrying when Mauna Loa’s lava flow reached just over three miles from Inouye Highway a few weeks ago, but reports now say the lava is moving slower as it flows over flatter land. Ken Hon, lead scientist at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, says that the current flow indicates the lava may possibly reach the highway in a week, but it’s difficult to predict. The highway is currently open in both directions with a reduced speed limit of 35 miles per hour in the area near the volcano. 

The eruption has also sparked concerns about health hazards caused by possible toxic gasses released into the air. State health officials say to expect “volcanic smog conditions, ash in the air, and levels of sulfur dioxide to increase and fluctuate in various areas of the state.” Furthermore, a combination of volcanic gas, fine ash, and strands of volcanic gas called Pele’s Hair, could be spread downwind to nearby towns. Although the governor of Hawaii, David Ige, has not yet issued evacuation orders, he signed an emergency proclamation as a proactive measure, as lava approaches the highway and air conditions worsen. (Sources: CNN, Washington Post, USGS)


Categories: National, News

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