The largest active volcano in the world, Mauna Loa, is erupting for the first time in four decades. After significant seismic activity on November 27th, Mauna Loa let loose. While there doesn’t appear to be any immediate danger, civil defense authorities on Hawaii’s Big Island advise residents to exercise caution. Lava flows are not threatening any downhill communities, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s current report.
This is good news for the area’s neighboring the Volcano National Park. But the truth is it’s still a little too early to tell. Volcanic eruptions are violent, but the runoff is decidedly slow. It’s takes weeks or even months for lava to get where it’s going. Lava has the viscosity of thick honey, and can be 10,000 to 100 million times more viscous than water. Unless on a steep slope, lava generally flows at about one foot every second. While other factors can dictate the speed of the flow, the toxic fumes, sheer heat, and all-consuming destruction are the larger threat. Like “The Blob” only made of fire and not sentient.
What is a bit worrying is the populations of neighboring towns are larger than they were forty years ago. Ken Hon, scientist-in-charge at the HVO (Hawaiian Volcano Observatory), explained the crawl of the lava dictates taking action. “We don’t want to try and second-guess the volcano,” Hon says. “We have to let it actually show us what it’s going to do and then we inform people of what is happening ASAP.”
Roughly 200,000 people could be in the path of the lava flow. But it’s too early to even know. While a large portion of those numbers live to the east or west of Mauna Loa, a subdivision of about 5000 live south. And that’s the group worrying officials most. Volcanic eruptions are spectacular marvels of the planet, but molten steamrollers to surrounding areas. Let’s hope the Hawaiian towns remain unharmed.