Note: I wrote this post about a week before I published it, so my information about the eruption of Mauna Loa will be out of date by the time you read this. Please consult the links I’ll provide below for more timely information.
After seeming to sleep for 38 years, Mauna Loa, the world’s largest volcano, located on the big island of Hawaii, has woken up. I say “seeming to sleep” because it is estimated that it took about 10 years for the magma to reach the upper magma chamber this time around, and that, in turn, lies 2 ½ miles below the crater itself. When you consider that the Hawaii hotspot, from whence the magma could be said to originate, is about 60 miles below the surface, you realize that any eruption is a long time coming. The amount of lava that we’ll see from this eruption is minuscule compared to the magma underground.
Mauna Loa has done a lot of swelling and shrinking over the years as the pressure below ground increased or subsided. That, of course, caused earthquakes. So if this volcano sleeps at all, it does so fitfully.
This current eruption began late in the evening of November 27, 2022 and, to date, the bulk of the lava is flowing toward the north. The lava flow has slowed down quite a bit today, which is a good thing, because it’s currently 1.7 miles away from Daniel K. Inouye Highway, the only major highway that crosses the interior of the big island. Its loss would be devastating. Authorities are now saying that the highway is no longer in danger, but volcanoes should never be underestimated, so we shall see.
The lava has traveled 12 miles, and it’s currently moving at a rate of 7 feet per hour. I don’t mean to make light of this event, but if you have to experience a natural disaster, it’s preferable to find one that’s laid back like this one is, so that you can outrun it. Still, volcanoes in general never cease to remind me how powerless we are over the natural world.
“Slow and steady wins the race”, as they say. This volcano has been erupting on and off for about 700,000 years, and only made it above the water’s surface about 400,000 years ago. It most likely will not become extinct for another 500,000 years. (Perhaps a better proverb would be “Patience is a virtue.”)
I’m particularly fascinated by this eruption because I visited Hawaii for the first time this past May. We drove the length of the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, and we went partway up Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa’s sister volcano. We didn’t ascend as high as we planned to because I started getting really loopy from the altitude and we decided that it was best to turn back. (It took me a few months to blog about it, but you can read that post here.)
We also stayed at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and that gave us the opportunity to see lava flowing from yet another volcano, Kilauea. As I said in that blog post, it felt as though I was gazing into the Beating Heart of Mother Earth, and I am forever changed by the experience. I have led a truly charmed life.
I’ve always thought of the Hawaiian islands as tiny little dots all alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and from that perspective, it’s understandable that when told a volcano is erupting, many tourists panic and change their travel plans. But when you get there and see things to scale, you realize that those fears are really unfounded. If a volcano erupted in the heart of Manhattan, nobody but those who live in Manhattan would say, “Well, I guess we need to cancel our reservations at that delightful bed and breakfast in Connecticut now.”
Yes, volcanos are dangerous. You shouldn’t get too close to a lava flow. And if you have breathing issues, you should keep track of the direction of the volcanic gasses and ash. Common sense dictates that one should avoid flying boulders and the like. And heaven forbid you get anywhere near a pyroclastic flow (but I’m happy to say that Hawaiian volcanoes don’t have that particular feature. It’s all about lava quality).
But as I said, most volcano action happens slowly, and with our modern technology we tend to get advanced warning. So I urge you not to alter your travel plans. I really wish I could go now, to see this spectacular eruption with my own eyes. (There is a live webcam, but it has only worked sporadically. Check it out, if you can, here. I especially enjoy watching it at night, but don’t forget to adjust for time change.)
During our time on the Big Island, we were able to observe Mauna Loa from many angles as it prepared itself for the spectacular transformation that we didn’t know was imminent. (Isn’t hindsight fascinating?) Even at a distance, it is, indeed, formidable, and the size makes it nearly impossible for our tiny minds to comprehend everything that was going on beneath the surface.
That is a perfect metaphor for change, isn’t it? We usually only see the change when it breaks the surface, but we often find out later that a lot of things had been percolating deep down, laying a foundation for change, for quite some time. Change will happen. (In fact, there’s a lot of change headed my way. Not to worry, though. It’s nothing horrible. When it surfaces, I’ll be sure to let you know.)
Change happens to all of us. It happens all around us. It’s part of life. But when next it happens to you, dear reader, here’s hoping that it will be as beautiful and as awe-inspiring as this eruption on Mauna Loa.
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