Mauna Loa eruption underway; eruptive fissures open at the summit

HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK (HawaiiNewsNow) – After 38 years of silence, Mauna Loa is erupting.

Scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said the eruption began around 11:30 p.m. Sunday in Mokuaweoweo, the volcano’s summit caldera.

USGS webcams at the summit clearly showed a long fissure erupting, fountaining lava, spreading along the caldera floor.

The US Geological Survey said the lava flows were originally contained within the summit area and do not threaten descending communities. But videos taken from the Kona site raise some concerns.

On Twitter, the USGS said “It appears that lava may be pouring out of the caldera. We are trying to assess the extent. However, eruptive fissures remain confined to the caldera at this time.”

No evacuation has been requested as emergency managers are monitoring the outbreak.

However, residents at risk from Mauna Loa lava flows are asked to review emergency plans and check with Hawaii County Civil Defense for further guidance.

The glow of the Mauna Loa eruption as seen from the Kawaihae area.
The glow of the Mauna Loa eruption as seen from the Kawaihae area.(Laura Lewis)

Scientists said winds may carry volcanic gas, and possibly fine ash and Pele’s hair in the wind.

“Based on past events, the early stages of a Mauna Loa eruption can be very dynamic, and the location and advance of lava flows can change rapidly,” the USGS said in a news release.

“If the eruption remains at Moku’─üweoweo, lava flows will most likely be confined within the caldera walls,” the release said. “However, if the vents migrate outside its walls, lava flows can move rapidly downward.”

The glow from the summit eruption of Mauna Loa, as seen from Milolii.
The glow from the summit eruption of Mauna Loa, as seen from Milolii.(Justin Kailiawa)

The 13,681-foot-tall volcano had shown increased earthquake activity in the past few weeks, leading many to believe an eruption could happen sooner rather than later.

The last time Mauna Loa erupted was in 1984. That eruption also began within the Mokuaweoweo summit caldera, but eruptive fissures migrated rapidly down the volcano’s southwest rift zone.

Fissures eventually opened on the mountain’s northeast rift zone, sending lava flows toward the Hilo area. However, neither flow reached the outskirts of Hilo when the eruption ended, about 20 days after it began.

The USGS said it is working closely with its emergency management partners and will conduct aerial surveys as soon as possible to obtain additional information about the eruption and potential hazards. However, these surveys may be hampered by weather conditions as the summit area is under a winter weather advisory until Monday morning.

This is a development story. Check back for updates.

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