Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano erupts for 1st time in nearly 40 years

Hawaii's Mauna Loa, the world's largest active volcano, has started to erupt, prompting volcanic ash and debris to fall nearby, authorities said Monday.

Scientists had been on alert after a recent spike in earthquakes at the summit

Hawaii's Mauna Loa, the world's largest active volcano, has started to erupt, prompting volcanic ash and debris to fall nearby, authorities said Monday.

The eruption began late Sunday night in the summit caldera of the volcano on the Big Island, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said. Early Monday, it said lava flows were contained within the summit area and weren't threatening nearby communities.

The agency warned residents at risk from Mauna Loa lava flows to review their eruption preparations, though there are no evacuation orders. Scientists had been on alert because of a recent spike in earthquakes at the summit of the volcano, which last erupted in 1984.

Scientists will have to wait to see if this remains a summit-only eruption or a rift zone eruption.

There is currently no indication of any migration of the eruption into a rift zone, officials said. A rift zone is where the mountain is splitting apart and the rock is cracked and relatively weak — making it easier for magma to emerge.

"At this time, it's not a time to be alarmed," Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth said.

Some choose to leave their homes

The average Mauna Loa eruption is not typically prolonged, lasting a couple of weeks, said Ken Hon, the scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcanos Observatory.

"Typically, Mauna Loa eruptions start off with the heaviest volume first," Hon said. "After a few days, it starts to calm down a little bit."

WATCH: Night sky illuminated by Hawaii volcano eruption:

Night sky illuminated by Hawaii volcano eruption

4 months ago
Duration 0:24
Hawaii's Mauna Loa erupted on Sunday night, creating a red glow in the sky.
There have been some photos provided to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory that suggest that the south end of the caldera has overflowed, causing some lava flows a few kilometres out of the caldera, Hon said.

In some previous eruptions, lava has overflowed the caldera but never made it close to populated areas.

Lava is seen at Mauna Loa's summit region during an eruption as viewed by a remote camera of the U.S. Geological Survey in Hawaii. (USGS/Reuters)

"Right now we are looking at indications, trying to figure out if this is going to be an eruption that remains within the summit of Mauna Loa or moves down one of the rift zones either to the southwest and to the northeast," Hon said.

"We don't want to try and second guess the volcano," he went on. "We have to let it actually show us what it's going to do and then we inform people of what is happening ASAP."

Even though it noted there is no indication of lava exiting the summit, the civil defence agency said it has opened shelters in Kailua-Kona and Pahala because it has reports of people self-evacuating along the South Kona coast.

Ashfall warning in effect

Portions of the Big Island were under an ashfall advisory issued by the National Weather Service in Honolulu, which said up to a quarter-inch (0.6 centimetres) of ash could accumulate in some areas.

"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.

The Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii is shown a March 25, 1984, handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, and released to Reuters in 2014. Scientists had been on alert for new activity because of a recent spike in earthquakes at the summit of the volcano. (U.S. Geological Survey/Reuters)

Mauna Loa is one of five volcanoes that together make up the Big Island of Hawaii, which is the southernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago.

Mauna Loa, rising 4,169 metres above sea level, is the much larger neighbour to the Kilauea volcano, which erupted in a residential neighbourhood and destroyed 700 homes in 2018. Some of its slopes are much steeper than Kilauea's, so when it erupts its lava can flow much faster.

During a 1950 eruption, the mountain's lava travelled 24 kilometres to the ocean in less than three hours. In the eruption of 1984, lava flowed within eight kilometres of the city of Hilo.

With files from CBC News


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?