Authorities have not issued evacuation orders, although the summit area and several roads in the region are closed.
Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano has shot lava fountains up to 200 feet high and spawned rivers of molten rock, US geologists said Tuesday. Three fissures have opened in the world’s largest active volcano, which erupted Sunday night for the first time in nearly four decades. Huge clouds of steam and smoke billowed from Mauna Loa, which occupies the Big Island half of the archipelago.
“The tallest sources reach between 30 and 60 meters, but many are only a few meters high,” the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said. “There is a gas cloud visible from the fountains and lava flows from the erupting fissures, and it is mainly being pushed to the northwest.” Experts estimate that people and property in the area under the eruption are not at risk for now.
“The lava flows from the two highest fissures are moving down the slope but are stopped about 10 kilometers from Saddle Road (the main road at the foot of the northern flank of the mountain).” The lava coming out of the third fissure at about 3,000 meters was also far from the road. In any case, the authorities warn that Mauna Loa is a dynamic volcano, and they reported a fourth fissure in the last few hours. “Additional fissures could open up in the Northeast Fault Zone, and lava flows could continue downslope.”
Mauna Loa has built up pressure for years, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which reported that the eruption was visible from Kona, a town on the west coast of the main island of the archipelago, about 72 kilometers from distance.
Although the lava still does not threaten the population, specialists warn that the winds can carry volcanic gas, fine ash and strands of basalt glass known as Pele’s hair down the hill. These threads, which can measure up to two meters, are formed when skeins of lava cool rapidly in the air. They can be very sharp and present a potential eye and skin injury hazard.
Authorities in Hawaii have not issued evacuation orders, despite the fact that the summit area and several highways in the region were closed. Two shelters were opened as a precaution.
Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on Earth by volume. Its name means ‘Big Mountain’ and it covers half of the Big Island and is larger than the rest of the Hawaiian Islands combined. The submarine flanks of the volcano extend for several kilometers to an ocean floor which, in turn, is depressed by the great mass of Mauna Loa, causing its summit to be about 17 kilometers above its base, according to the USGS.
It has erupted 33 times since 1843, according to the USGS. The most recent, in 1984, lasted 22 days and produced lava flows that reached up to about seven kilometers from Hilo, a city where about 44,000 people currently reside. Kilauea, a volcano located on the southeast flank of Mauna Loa, erupted almost continuously between 1983 and 2019. A small eruption has been taking place there for months.