Alert: USGS says, ‘Hawaiian Volcano Mauna Loa Activity Growing’

Aerial imagery of Mauna Loa in Hawaii, (J.D. Griggs - U.S. Geological Survey)

Aerial imagery of Mauna Loa in Hawaii, (J.D. Griggs – U.S. Geological Survey)

Alert: USGS – Hawaiian Volcano Mauna Loa is Growing in Activity

Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) have elevated the Volcano Alert Level for Mauna Loa from NORMAL to ADVISORY, on a color scale this essentially means moving from GREEN to YELLOW.

The change indicates that the volcano is showing signs of unrest that are above known background levels, but it does not mean that a Mauna Loa eruption is imminent or certain, according to the USGS.

According to the USGS website, “HVO’s seismic stations have recorded elevated rates of shallow, small-magnitude earthquakes beneath the summit, upper Southwest Rift Zone, and west flank of Mauna Loa for at least the past year.  During this same time, HVO monitoring instruments have measured ground deformation (inflation) on Mauna Loa that is consistent with recharge of the volcano’s shallow magma storage system. Together, these observations indicate that Mauna Loa is no longer at a background level of activity.”

In simple terms: if the Volcano is a deflated water balloon, research suggests that it is starting to refill and expand.

The Volcano Alert Level is a 4-tiered system that uses the terms NORMAL (background levels), ADVISORY, WATCH, and WARNING (highest threat) to inform the public about a volcano’s status.  Based on changes in activity, and in accordance with the USGS Volcanic Activity Alert-Notification System, HVO raised the Volcano Alert Level to ADVISORY.

“Over the past year we’ve been locating, on average, around 150 earthquakes per month,” says Weston Thelen with the U.S.G.S.  “Normally, fewer than 40 earthquakes a month are reported.”

“It’s possible that the increased level of activity at Mauna Loa could continue for many months, or years, without leading to an eruption,” said Tina Neal, HVO’s Scientist-in-Charge.  “It is also possible that the current unrest could be a precursor to the next eruption of Mauna Loa.  But at this early stage, we cannot determine precisely which possibility is more likely.”

Mauna Loa’s most recent eruption, which began on March 25, 1984 and lasted just over 3 weeks, was preceded by up to 3 years of increased earthquake activity. Still, compared to pre-1984 activity, the energy released by recent quakes remains comparatively low.

Being Prepared

As with any natural disaster — the recent Middletown devastation comes to mind — the American Red Cross recommends having an emergency preparedness kit available for use at home and in the event of a sudden evacuation. The kit should contain the following supplies:

  • Basics:
    • Water: one gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
    • Food: non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
    • Flashlight
    • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
    • Extra batteries
    • First aid kit
    • Medications (7-day supply) and medical items
    • Multi-purpose tool
    • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
    • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
    • Cell phone with chargers
    • Family and emergency contact information
    • Extra cash
    • Emergency blanket
    • Map(s) of the area
  • Additional needs for family members:
    • Medical supplies (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc)
    • Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
    • Games and activities for children
    • Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
    • Two-way radios
    • Extra set of car keys and house keys
    • Manual can opener
  • Additional supplies geared toward the types of disasters found in your area:
    • Whistle
    • N95 or surgical masks
    • Matches
    • Rain gear
    • Towels
    • Work gloves
    • Tools/supplies for securing your home
    • Extra clothing, hat and sturdy shoes
    • Plastic sheeting
    • Duct tape
    • Scissors
    • Household liquid bleach
    • Entertainment items
    • Blankets or sleeping bags

What To Do In The Event Of An Eruption

A volcanic eruption is a very serious matter and although HVO is not saying that an eruption will happen soon, they are warning that increased activity can mean an impending eruption is on the horizon. The Centers For Disease Control recommends following these guidelines in order to keep you and your families safe:

If a lahar, pyroclastic flow, or lava flow is headed toward you:

1.) Leave the area immediately. If you are warned to evacuate because an eruption is imminent, evacuate.

2.) If you can drive rather than walk, use your vehicle to evacuate. When driving keep doors and windows closed, drive across the path of danger if you can or away from the danger if you can not, and watch for unusual hazards in the road.

  • If you are indoors:
    • Close all windows, doors, and fireplace or woodstove dampers.
    • Turn off all fans and heating and air conditioning systems.
    • Bring pets and livestock into closed shelters.
  • If you are outdoors:
    • Seek shelter indoors.
    • If caught in a rockfall, roll into a ball to protect your head.
    • If near a stream or river, be aware of rising water and possible mudflows in low-lying areas. Move up-slope as quickly as possible.
    • Seek care for burns right away. Immediate care can be life saving.
    • If your eyes, nose, and throat become irritated from volcanic gases and fumes, move away from the area immediately. Your symptoms should go away when you are no longer in contact with the gases or fumes. If the symptoms continue, consult your doctor.

Protecting yourself during ashfall:

  • Stay inside, if possible, with windows and doors closed.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Use goggles to protect your eyes.If ash is continually falling, you may not be able to shelter indoors for more than a few hours, because the weight of the ash could collapse the roof of your building and block air intakes into the building. Listen to authorities for advice on leaving the area when ashfall lasts more than a few hours.
  • Exposure to ash can harm your health, particularly the respiratory (breathing) tract. To protect yourself while you are outdoors or while you are cleaning up ash that has gotten indoors, a disposable particulate respirator (also known as an “air purifying respirator”) may be considered. An N-95 respirator is the most common type of disposable particulate respirator and can be purchased at businesses such as hardware stores. It is important to follow directions for proper use of this respirator. For more information, see NIOSH-Approved Disposable Particulate Respirators (Filtering Facepieces) . If you don’t have a particulate respirator, you can protect yourself by using a nuisance dust mask as a last resort, but you should stay outdoors for only short periods while dust is falling. Nuisance dust masks can provide comfort and relief from exposure to relatively non-hazardous contaminants such as pollen, but they do not offer as much protection as a particulate respirator. Cleanup or emergency workers may need a different type of breathing protection based on their work activity. Note that disposable particulate respirators do not filter toxic gases and vapors.
  • Keep your car or truck engine switched off. Avoid driving in heavy ashfall. Driving will stir up ash that can clog engines and stall vehicles. If you do have to drive, keep the car windows up and do not operate the air conditioning system. Operating the air conditioning system will bring in outside air and ash.

We repeat: the USGS is not issuing an eruption watch or warning, but recent activity has caused them to take a closer look at Mauna Loa. Residents are advised to tune in at your leisure to NOAA Weather Radio at the station list below, or listen online HERE for immediate updates.

“NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts National Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day. The radio program broadcasts on frequencies 162.400 (channel 1), 162.450 (channel 3), and 162.550 (channel 7) in the Hawaiian Islands. Weather radios can be purchased at local electronics stores, mail order catalogs and various other locations.

Station KBA99 serves Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui, Lanai, and parts of the Big Island, from transmitters located on Oahu (Mt. Kaala, 162.550 MHz; and Hawaii Kai, 162.450 MHz) and on Kauai (Kokee, 162.400 MHz).

Station WWG75 serves Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and parts of the Big Island, from a transmitter located on Maui (Haleakala, 162.400 MHz).

Station WWG27 serves parts of the Big Island, from transmitters located on the Big Island (South Point, 162.550 MHz; and Kulani Cone, 162.500 MHz).”

Fun fact: The largest subaerial volcano in both mass and volume, Mauna Loa is supposedly considered the largest volcano on Earth.  Its relatively shallow slopes and Lava eruptions, described as silica-poor and very fluid, tend to be non-explosive.

What are your thoughts?  Is this an interesting series of events in relation to the recent Chilean earthquake?  Let us know how you feel and join in the conversation: comment below, share on Facebook, and find us on Twitter using the hashtag #DMTalk.

W D King


Walter king is a sushi enthusiast. A cat lover. A star gazer. An ex-skateboarder, with the destroyed knees to prove it. A local boy raised in Hawaii. He spent much of his youth listening to art bell, infecting his brain with all matter of gray area thought provoking ideas like time travel, collective consciousness, and who can forget: Bigfoot. He's a loving husband and first time father. A movie junkie. A cliff diving, mud slinging, midday dreamer. He also kind of dabbles in indie film production, music production, and photography. He is survived by his unflinching whit and dry sense of humor.

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