Watching Mauna Loa

Being an inveterate volcano watcher, I have not only been watching the new flow on Kilauea, but keeping a wary eye on Mauna Loa as well. The USGS has steadily been increasing the alert level on this largest of the Hawaiian volcanoes over the last year.

On this unstable rock we live, we get a fair number of earthquakes. Of course not every bump you feel is seismic, sometimes it is just a big truck on the highway. You look on the USGS Recent Earthquakes page anyway, just to see what it was. Not this time, must have been a truck. While I have the page loaded I look about… Wait? What is that cluster on the NW flank of Mauna Loa? I do not remember seeing that before!

For the last year or more there has been a steady cluster of small earthquakes just to the southwest of the main caldera. This notable cluster is usually visible when you stop by the earthquake page and indicates magma motion below the summit. It is a big part of why the USGS has upped the advisory level. The cluster on the west flank looks new to me, a lot of small quakes, some deep, some as shallow as 600m.

I am sure someone over at the USGS is looking at the same cluster and asking the same questions. Maybe they have better answers, but they have not published anything yet. Maybe, like so many times before this cluster will fade away, not to appear again. It is however a reminder that magma is moving down there, the mountain is swelling, someday she will erupt again.

Today I will be driving up and down the mountain. I know I will be looking across the saddle at the looking bulk of Mauna Loa and wondering for the thousandth time. Will I see an eruption from her during my years on island?

HVO Earthquakes 15July2016
HVO earthquake plot for 15July2016

What Will Kilauea Do?

The pressure just keeps on building. This is a major surge of magma into the mountain. There is not much mystery about this… The increased seismic levels, the rising lava lake, but most of all the tilt meters indicating substantial inflation of the summit caldera.

Kilauea Deformation 20150502
Deformation data for Kilauea Caldera from the USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory for May 2, 2015
Always watch the deformation data, this is the single best indicator of the pressure in the magma chamber. Sensitive tilt meters continuously monitor the swelling of the summit around the caldera, giving a real time view inside the volcano.

As you can see from the graph it has gone up and up over the last week. There have been a couple pauses, almost looking like it was going to begin deflation. But no, it just goes up again. The result is lava spilling out onto the floor of Halemaʻumaʻu crater and a beautiful nighttime show.

The interesting thing is that this increase in pressure has not been seen at the downslope vent around Puʻu ʻŌʻō. The flows there remain rather anemic and there is no sign of inflation around the vent. Add the seismic data and things get interesting.

Kilauea Seismic Data 20150502
Seismic data for the Kilauea Caldera and southeast rift zone May 2, 2015
The USGS has sketched out this basic outline of the events in the volcano in their public press releases. But they are rather cautious to give any strong predictions. No surprise, they have a reputation to maintain. Perhaps it is wise to not give any predictions, this volcano may seem predictable, but when you least expect it it does something different.

I on the other hand, have no professional reputation as a vulcanologist. I can throw caution to the wind and prognosticate…

My prediction? Unless something occurs to relieve the pressure, perhaps a major increase in the flow of lava at Puʻu ʻŌʻō, there will be an eruption elsewhere. My guess? South of the main caldera along the southeast rift zone in the Makaopuhi Crater or Nāpau Crater area.

When? Who knows, much depends on the magma supply surge continuing. As long as the pressure keeps building the odds of an eruption elsewhere on the volcano increase with it.

It will be interesting to watch. And watch we will. I expect to be at the Jagger museum overlook Saturday evening. Look for the crowd around my telescope.

Observations Reveal Massive Eruptions on Jupiter’s Moon Io

W. M. Keck Observatory Press Release

Three massive volcanic eruptions occurred on Jupiter’s moon Io within a two-week period, leading astronomers to speculate that these presumed rare “outbursts,” which can send material hundreds of miles above the surface, might be much more common than previously thought. The observations were made using the W. M. Keck Observatory and Gemini Observatory, both near the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Io Eruptions
Images of Io obtained at different infrared wavelengths (in microns, μm, or millionths of a meter) with the W. M. Keck Observatory’s 10-meter Keck II telescope on Aug. 15, 2013 (a-c) and the Gemini North telescope on Aug. 29, 2013 (d). Credit: Imke de Pater and Katherine de Kleer, UC Berkely
“We typically expect one huge outburst every one or two years, and they’re usually not this bright,” said Imke de Pater, professor and chair of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of one of two papers describing the eruptions. “Here we had three extremely bright outbursts, which suggest that if we looked more frequently we might see many more of them on Io.”

Io, the innermost of Jupiter’s four large “Galilean” moons, is about 2,300 miles across, and, aside from Earth, is the only known place in the solar system with volcanoes erupting extremely hot lava like that seen on Earth. Because of Io’s low gravity, large volcanic eruptions produce an umbrella of debris that rises high into space.

De Pater’s long-time colleague and coauthor Ashley Davies, a volcanologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., said that the recent eruptions resemble past events that spewed tens of cubic miles of lava over hundreds of square miles in a short period of time.

“These new events are in a relatively rare class of eruptions on Io because of their size and astonishingly high thermal emission,” he said. “The amount of energy being emitted by these eruptions implies lava fountains gushing out of fissures at a very large volume per second, forming lava flows that quickly spread over the surface of Io.”

All three events, including the largest, most powerful eruption of the trio on 29 Aug. 2013, were likely characterized by “curtains of fire,” as lava blasted out of fissures perhaps several miles long.

Continue reading “Observations Reveal Massive Eruptions on Jupiter’s Moon Io”

1940 Mauna Loa Eruption Film

Vintage film of Mauna Loa eruption during 1940 by Harold T. Stearns, a USGS Hydrologist-Volcanologist.

An eruption of Mauna Loa is something everyone fears and hopes for. This enormous volcano will erupt again, almost certainly within our lifetimes, possibly even the next decade. The last eruption was in 1984, the mountain has been quiet for well over two decades now, an uncharacteristically long period of quiescence. When it does erupt this volcano is capable of emitting huge volumes of lava, that reach the sea quite quickly down the steep slopes A dangerous mountain to be wary of.

Damon posted this some time ago, definitely worth re-posting here.