World’s Largest Active Volcano Erupts for The First Time in 40 Years

Hawaii's Mauna Loa is the world's largest active volcano. On Sunday at approximately 11:30 p.m., the volcano began to erupt.

Currently No Risk

As of 2:43 a.m. local time, the eruption is contained to the summit of the volcano. “All vents remain restricted to the summit area,” said the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Status Report from the U.S. Geological Survey. “However, lava flows in the summit region are visible from Kona. There is currently no indication of any migration of the eruption into a rift zone.”

A rift zone occurs when the mountain splits apart, and the rock becomes cracked and weak enough for magma to emerge.

The USGS issued a warning that residents who are at risk from Mauna Loa lava flows should immediately review their eruption preparations. Scientists have been on high alert thanks to a series of earthquakes at the summit of the volcano.

Much of the Big Island has been under an ashfall advisory put in place by the National Weather Service in Honolulu. The weather service reported that in some areas, up to a quarter-inch of ash could accumulate.

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Sleeping Giant

Mauna Loa rises 13,679 feet above sea level and is the larger neighbor to the Kilauea volcano. Kilauea erupted in 2018 in a residential area and laid waste to 700 homes. Mauna Loa's slopes are steeper than Kilauea's, allowing lava to flow faster down the slopes.

Kilauea has been erupting for more than a year, so it is a rare sight to see two neighboring volcanos erupting simultaneously. The two have not erupted together since 1984, Mauna Loa's last eruption before its historical quiet period began.

Mauna Loa is one of five volcanos that encompasses the Big Island of Hawaii. When Mauna Loa erupted in 1950, the lava from the eruption was able to travel 15 miles to the ocean in under three hours.

Between March and April of 1984, Mauna Loa erupted for 20 days straight. The volcano was currently in its longest quiet period in recorded history before the eruption on Sunday. “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 Sunday night. “If the eruption remains in Moku‘āweoweo, lava flows will most likely be confined within the caldera walls. However, if the eruptive vents migrate outside its walls, lava flows may move rapidly downslope.”

As of Tuesday, two fresh lava flows have been spotted carving a path down Mauna Loa, according to the USGS.

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