Mauna Loa Awakens

On the way home in the eve the red glow dominates the horizon. Going to work the next morning it is the plume on the skyline. The eruption is ever present.

The 2022 eruption of Mauna Loa on the second day
The 2022 eruption of Mauna Loa on the second day

When moving to the island fifteen years ago I had looked at the mauna and thought to myself… One day you will erupt, will it be during my time on the island? This though has occured to me many times in the intervening years… When hiking the lava flows in the saddle, when driving up and down Mauna Kea to work looking across at the many flows streaking the flanks of Mauna Loa. How many times have I looked up and wondered when? One day.

That day was Sunday, November 27th, 2022.

It has only been a week. A week of constant annoucements from county civil defense, a week of constant monitoring of the situation, a week of realizations, of reminders that we live on a planet that is capable of destruction and creation on a grand scale.

The eruption is not quite visible from the house, while the glow is visible over the neighbor’s rooftops, we need to hike up the hill or drive to the south end of the village for a clear look. But from there, just a few moments from the house, you can see the red plume at night, see the bright orange of the flows cascadng down the flank.

The 2022 eruption of Mauna Loa on the second day
The 2022 eruption of Mauna Loa on the second day

I have aleady made two outings to see the eruption. First was a quick outing in the wee morning hours of Monday morning to see the glow from just above the village while the lava was confined to the summit caldera in the first hours of the eruption.

A day later I mounted a proper volcano run to see the new lava flows that had broken out on the northeast rift. As per standard operating procedure this was a dawn run to avoid the crowds and take advantage of the better weather island mornings typically provide.

I drove up to near the Mauna Kea Access and Saddle Road junction, the point closest to the flows to properly see the spectacle of this new eruption. I spent a couple hours watching through the dawn, taking photos, and chatting with fellow lava enthusiasts. It is surreal to have lava flows within a half hour drive from the house. I was a bit late for work, nobody commented on that, rather they were commenting on the photos I had sent the team or asking about the best place to go and view for themselves.

Much of the island population has been up to see in the days since, the evening crowds jamming the highway. Everyone considers this to be an “event of a lifetime”, something many have waited decades to see. I will be up again, and soon, probably this weekend.

We are not directly threatened by the flow, we live on a different mauna, the slopes of Mauna Kea. While there is no danger of losing the house, that does not mean there is no impact. The volcano has already altered life on the island in minor ways, and the impacts may grow as the eruption progresses. The flows are now approaching the Daniel K Innoye Highway or as it is commonly known, Saddle Road.

The 2022 eruption of Mauna Loa on the second day
The 2022 eruption of Mauna Loa on the second day

Cutting the primary cross island highway will have more than a little impact on daily life. I had been planning to drive that road for a few days, a summons for jury duty starting this coming Monday. That, at least has been cancelled, the trial settled. I think of those whose livelihood depends on Saddle Road, it will be difficult. It seems quite likely the highway will go under.

For now at least the eruption does not threaten anything other than the highway, a long ways from any developed areas.

Of course a main topic of conversation now is what will the lava do. Where will it go? What will it destroy? With memories of the 2018 Kilauea eruption and the destruction of 700 homes fresh in everyone’s minds the threat is taken quite seriously. For now the eruption is in an undeveloped part of the island, away from homes and businesses.

But given time that could change. The flows is progressing right down the saddle divide, it could go either way, east or west.

The 2022 eruption of Mauna Loa on the second day
The 2022 eruption of Mauna Loa on the second day

As the eruption starts to stabilize we can guess with some chance of being right, though outguessing a volcanic eruption is an exercise in some folly. Even so I will attempt it…

I am predicting that over the next week the flow will proceed into the area around Puʻuhuluhulu and stall for a short while there, ponding and spreading out in the flats, it will likely cut Saddle Road in the process. This part is a pretty safe prediction.

This is unfortunate. I consider the area south of Puʻuhuluhulu and along the first mile of the Mauna Loa access road to be one of the prettiest parts of the island. An area of old aʻa lava flows, stunted and beautiful ʻōhiʻa trees that could be bonsai, and landscapes that would not be disparaged in a garden. An area I have so often hiked, photographed, and flown a drone about.

I also predict, in contrast to a particular friend who has argued the point with me, that the flow will not stall for very long, a week or two perhaps. It will then pass south of Puʻuhuluhulu and follow the 1935 and then the 1881 flows towards Hilo going east, not west. I think the 1843 flow will block any westward movement.

The flow will then progress slowly and steadily eastwards towards Hilo, inundating several miles of the new DKI highways as it goes. It is then a question if the eruption will last long enough to reach the neighborhoods of Kaumana and begin a repeat of the terrible events of 2018.

The mauna has been storing magma for a long time, with dramatic inflation over the past couple decades. The volcano has a lot of magma in the summit chamber to draw upon, this eruption could go for months. There is no princess Keʻelikōlani to perform the rites to appease Pele and stop the flow this time.

Mauna Loa eruption at dawn
The 2022 Mauna Loa eruption at dawn

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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