Mauna Loa Awakens

I am not certain what woke me up at one AM, but I was awake. Before going back to sleep I decided to check the satellite photos to see if I might get some telescope time before dawn. But what I found online had me totally awake and grabbing a couple batteries for the camera.

Mauna Loa has awoken.

I was soon driving out from the house to a point above the village with a clear view of the mauna. The whole southern sky an angry red over the village as I drove. I did not have to drive far, just a couple minutes from the house where you can find a clear view. Pulling off I set up the camera and shot.

I was not the only one out, half a dozen cars could be seen stopped along Waikoloa Road to view the eruption. The whole mauna is lit up red and it looks like the west flank is erupting, not just the caldera as Civil Defense currently insists. Just the clouds lit up on that side?

Life is intertesting.

Mauna Loa Eruption from Waikoloa
Mauna Loa Eruption from Waikoloa
Summit Webcam of Mauna Loa Eruption
A summit webcam view of the new Mauna Loa eruption showing an active rift across the caldera floor.

Update: By dawn much of the caldera has flooded with lava. Scale is hard to see in the photos, you have to recall that the caldera is almost two miles across and three miles from end to end.

Mauna Loa Caldera Eruption
The Mauna Loa caldera eruption at dawn Nov 28, 2022

Update 9:11am: The eruption has already migrated to a series of fissures on the northeast flank. The typical Mauna Loa eruption script is a summit caldera eruption followed by a flank eruption a few days, or a few weeks later. We have just seen that happen in a few hours.

I am including a couple photos here taken by a co-worker as she commuted across the saddle this morning at dawn. You can already see the lava flows making their way into the saddle…

Mauna Loa Eruption
Mauna Loa Erption at Dawn, photo by Marcela Balleza
Mauna Loa Eruption
Mauna Loa Eruption at Dawn, photo by Marcela Balleza

This is a Bit Concerning

Earthquake activity is on a bit of an uptick around here. While the mag 3.9 that woke us up a few nights ago was probably just a settling event under Mauna Kea, much of the remaining activity is under Mauna Loa. This includes a 3.7 magnitude event last night, part of an ongoing swarm under the long mountian.

Mauna Loa earthquake swarm 5 Oct 2022
Mauna Loa earthquake swarm 5 Oct 2022

Mauna Loa’s activity has remained elevated for some weeks now. There are two swarm centers. One directly under the caldera, but more interestingly a persistent swarm under the northwest flank a few kilometers away.

All of this has the island buzzing with concern. On social media, in the local papers, Mauna Loa is the subject of much speculation. The official line is that no eruption is imminent, but officials are quick to remind residents to monitor local emergency channels and have an evaculation plan at the ready.

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Spatter Cone

Watching the current eruption at Kilauea where the western vent fountains and churns leaves one with a practical understanding of how a spatter cone or spatter rampart forms. The blobs and globs of lava land around the vent where they cool. This builds up a substantial edifice around the vent.

Splatters of lava from the western vent Halemaʻumaʻu
Splatters of lava from the western vent Halemaʻumaʻu

The process is illuminating to watch in this current eruption. Every few minutes a large spash or jet of lava escapes the boiling caldron in the middle. The lava spashes across the ground around the vent. At first bright orange, the splash slowly cools and fades to deep red, then dark at it solidifies. The spatter cone is just a little bit bigger.

The spatter cone grows and changes shape daily. Visiting the eruption after a couple weeks one finds the cone drastically reshaped and much larger. Occasional a side will collapse and the process begins anew.

While it might seem fun to get a closer look at the current vent, this idea is also a quick way to die, the gasses and heat would quickly kill anyone who approached too closely.

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Mauna Loa Concerns

Like most armchair volcanologists on this island I have been monitoring Mauna Loa more closely lately. The deformation graphs in particular have been? Interesting. I have even gone so far as predicting that we will not get through the year without a Mauna Loa eruption.

An intense earthquake swarm on the NW flank of Mauna Loa
An intense earthquake swarm on the NW flank of Mauna Loa, March 30, 2021

The area of concern has been the western rift zone, exhibiting steady and shallow seismic activity for the last several years. More concerning is the rate of inflation shown in the GPS data, This seems to have doubled in rate around last October.

Then comes today.

An intense seismic swarm is currently occurring beneath the NW flank. Still fairly deep. a few kilometers below the surface, but getting shallower. Magma is definitely moving, a sizable mass moving upwards and emplacing itself higher in the volcano.

This may come to nothing in the near term. Like many seismic swarms it may stop. Just part of the process towards a future eruption some years from now, or never. Or we may be seeing the first step in a new eruption. I will hold to my prediction of an eruption sometime in 2021.

Sit back and watch.

Visiting the New Lake

The lava burst forth from the crater wall just before Christmas. After two years of quiet the volcano has again erupted. Within hours the lake of water that had been slowly growing had been boiled away in a huge plume of steam.

Gazing into creation at Kilauea Caldera
Gazing into creation at Kilauea Caldera with the stars of Crux and Alpha Centauri above

I knew within minutes that an eruption had begun, tapped into the island grapevine. While I considered making a midnight run across island I had to bow to the needs of life and regretfully went to bed.

Now well into the new year I finally had a chance to photograph the new lava lake.

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