Lava fountains reaching up to a whopping 200 feet high are erupting from the Mauna Loa volcano on the Island of Hawaii, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) have reported. Experts say that four fissures have opened up on the mountain, which began to erupt last Sunday, with vast clouds of steam and smoke now billowing up into the sky above. According to the geologists, there is presently no risk to people and property from the eruptions, with the lava flows not having reached the nearest roads.
In a statement on Monday, the USGS said: “Estimates of the tallest fountain heights are between 100–200 feet, but most are a few yards tall.”
In an update published earlier today, the experts added that lava fountains from fissure 4 are now consistently 15–30 feet tall, while those from fissure 3 are 130–160 feet tall.
They added: “There is a visible gas plume from the erupting fissure fountains and lava flows, with the plume primarily being blown to the North. Sulphur dioxide emission rates are approximately 250,000 tonnes per day.”
The largest and longest lava flow is issuing from fissure 3, heading out in a northeasterly direction. This has reportedly crossed the road that leads up to the Mauna Loa Weather Observatory and is now 4.5 miles from Saddle Road, the main route at the foot of the volcano’s northern flank.
Based on past events, however, scientists have warned that eruptions from the Mauna Loa rift zone can be very dynamic — meaning that “the location and advance of lava flows can change rapidly.”
The USGS’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, they added, “is in close consultation with emergency management partners and will monitor the volcano closely to provide further updates on activity.”
Even though the lava is not presently posing a threat to the island’s residents, experts have warned that winds could carry volcanic gas and ash down the side of the mountain — alongside fine strands of volcanic glass known at Pele’s hair.
This material — which forms when lava from fountains, cascades and more vigorous flows is stretched into thin strands — is typically extremely brittle and sharp, and can cause damage to the skin and eyes.
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Mauna Loa, which reaches an elevation of 13,679 feet above sea level at its summit, is the largest land-based volcano on the planet.
The mountain is an example of shield volcano — so named because the runny, non-explosive nature of the magma that formed it resembles a large shield on the ground.
Geologists believe that Mauna Loa has been erupting for at least 700,000 years — peaking about the sea surface some 400,000 years ago — fuelled by magma from the underlying Hawaii hotspot, which is responsible for the creation of the whole Hawaiian archipelago.
Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984, when a narrow flow of ʻAʻā — a basaltic lava that formed a rough of rubbly surface as it cools — passed within four miles of Hilo, close enough for the glow from the molten rock to illuminate the town at night.
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The eruption follows an increase in seismic activity underneath Hawaii in recent weeks — tremors which scientists said were suggestive of magma bodies shifting beneath the vast volcano.
Yesterday morning also saw a magnitude-4.0 earthquake strike around 6 miles east of the neighbourhood of Pahala, on the island’s southeastern coast, at a depth of some 20 miles below sea level.
However, USGS geologists said: “The earthquake is not related to the eruption of Mauna Loa and had no apparent impact on the ongoing eruptions at Mauna Loa and Kīlauea.
“This earthquake is part of the seismic swarm under the Pāhala area, which has been going on since 2019. Earthquakes in this region have been observed at least as far back as the 1960s.”