The risks associated with the eruption of Mauna Loa in Hawaii appear to be under control – encouraging news for volcanologists, who have been waiting for years for a chance to get more information from such a large and spectacular eruption without the restrictions that come with the danger. all the time. .
Mauna Loa is the world’s largest volcano – measured by area, not destructive power – and is currently witnessing its first eruption since 1984.
“These kinds of events are always very interesting,” said Kenneth H. Rubin of the University of Hawaii.
“There are two aspects to all natural disaster studies,” Rubin said. The first is horror, and the second is a phenomenon of “scientific interest.”
The volcano’s massive eruption broke another impressive record
“The Mauna Loa volcano, and the nearby Kilauea volcano, are some of the best-watched volcanoes in the world,” Rubin said. He also said that The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is, “the oldest modern volcano observatory in the world,” and that he and his colleagues will work hard to “make sure that the eruption is reversed, if it never starts.”
In other words, they have been waiting for a long time, and they are focusing on the dangers. But now, the whole project may have given scientists a chance to focus on the explosion as a natural phenomenon, which is beneficial for everyone’s safety in the long run.
What the Mauna Loa eruption can teach us
As Rubin explained, this is a perfect storm of data from satellites, direct observation from the ground, thermal and air sensors, and – one of Rubin’s specialties – that comes from radiation.
As scientists get closer to this lava, they ask things like “Does it have crystals?” according to Rubin, since the crystallization of magma helps drive the eruption.
Or “Is everything glass?” Rubin asked, because this could have an important effect on the growth of the lava – making it flow less, and allowing scientists to calculate the risk.
“How big are the blisters?” is another question that Rubin asks. The size of the nozzle and the density in the magma chamber seem to be a strong indicator of when the eruption will stop.
One of the questions Rubin said he will be eager to investigate is: “Where does this magma come from?”
Watch Mauna Loa erupt into the world’s largest volcano
He explained that Mauna Loa has been seen as ripe for eruption for years. “We have evidence that magma was injected [relatively recently] and it didn’t happen.”
Knowing where the magma came from, and thus, how the magma that has not yet erupted interacts with the new magma coming from the mantle, can reveal valuable secrets about how eruptions are coming.
As volcanologist and frequent TV speaker Jess Phoenix said the Atlantic Ocean on November 29, “This will give us information about how volcanic eruptions change and spread. And hopefully, we can use this information to inform decisions about public safety in Hawaii and around the world.”
Mauna Loa has been erupting for several days as of this writing, with lava coming out of two fissures, which are erupting in a northeasterly direction. By Monday, all of the rock was slowly creeping toward the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, part of a major highway connecting the Big Island’s east and west coasts — but the actual lava flow was still there. about two kilometers.
Credit: USGS / public domain
It still seems clear that the lava will connect to the highway according to a statement on Monday from the United States Geological Survey (USGS). However, as of last Thursday afternoon, the water was moving slowly, so the road closures will not be a surprise, and the major disruption to life on this big island is not clear.
In addition, by Sunday the threat of ash spewing into the atmosphere was over, and the USGS aviation warning was downgraded from code “RED” to “ORANGE.” In other words, pilots will not have to worry less than before about the particles of this explosion damaging their engines.
In contrast, the eruption of Mount Kīlauea at the foot of Puna in the summer of 2018 – the last eruption in Hawaii of this size – the volcano repeatedly erupted with destructive lava bombs and caused $ 800 million in damage, including the gradual destruction of entire tracts. house.
View Hawaii’s volcano eruptions from a distance
Although the habitat is not in danger, the attention from regular observers in Hawaii is another danger in times like these.
The USGS, for its part, has been cautious, tweeting accordingly warnings. But it has happened again he encouraged that Twitter users “look good every day” from its website. According to a Dec. 1 statement from the USGS about the eruption, “No property is currently in danger.”
“Some people joke that Hawaii’s volcanoes are volcanoes,” Rubin said. But he added that Mauna Loa is at a high altitude where the climate is cold, and the source of the lava is not easily accessible by vulnerable people.
Also, Mauna Loa is so big, and the slopes of the mountain are so far away from tourists. In addition, the lava “is very fast, and does not contain much air.”
“All four things work together to keep it cool,” Rubin said.
However, Rubin said, past hazards such as “car bombs,” “pyroclastic deposits,” and the threat of toxic gases mean it’s important to be careful when an eruption occurs.