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Mauna Loa Volcano update

Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii Island has been in the news here in the Aloha State since late September due to a significant uptick in seismic activity. Earthquake “swarms” have been fairly constant. As of this writing, the Hawaii Volcanoes Observatory has recorded 44 small-magnitude earthquakes (below Magnitude 3) in the past 24 hours. This is certainly notable and newsworthy, but it is also no cause for alarm.

Aloha Bruce spoke about Big Island vacation planning on the latest HAT Vacation Podcast, so we thought we’d offer a brief explainer about current conditions at Mauna Loa and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It is, after all, one of Hawaii Island’s most popular and important visitor destinations.

Mauna Loa volcano's coastal area.
Mauna Loa Volcano comprises half of the landmass of Hawaii Island.

Mauna Loa Volcano in the news

According to the US Geological Survey, “Mauna Loa Volcano is not erupting and there are no signs of an imminent eruption.” The seismic activity has caused some limited structural damage in nearby Naalehu on the Big Island’s southeast flank, but no injuries have been reported. Public access to Mauna Loa’s summit was closed in early October due to the increased seismic activity. 65 earthquakes in one day! Wow!

However, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park remains open to the public and normal operations are ongoing. Of course, certain parts of the park may be closed due to maintenance and safety issues unrelated to the recent seismic action. The Pauahi Overlook Deck is temporarily closed for repairs, for example. And there is a current caution in effect regarding Western Yellowjacket Wasp risk. Those stings are painful. Be careful. Get out of any area where the ground-nesting wasps are active immediately.

Government messaging at all levels stresses the important point that Mauna Loa is not erupting. The last eruption occurred in 1984. And while volcanologists agree that the mountain will erupt again, it is important to remember that such an eruption is non imminent, or “bound to happen any minute!” The summit of Mauna Loa is closed to the public not because the mountain is about to explode, but because the seismic activity, erratic but constant, poses a real safety threat.

Pepeiao at Mauna Loa Volcano.

Volcano facts

Current conditions at Mauna Loa are nothing like the spectacular eruption of Kilauea Volcano in 2018. There is no active surface lava flow on Mauna Loa like the dramatic images and videos that captivated people around the world during that remarkable period. Mauna Loa is a volcano doing volcano things. It is monitored in minute detail every minute of every day. While a future eruption is inevitable, there is no threat of an eruption at the present time.

With that said, let’s take a look at some facts about Mauna Loa that make it such an irresistible attraction to scientists and laypeople alike:

  • Mauna Loa is the largest active volcano on Planet Earth. It comprises one half of the land mass of Hawaii Island.
  • The first scientifically verified eruption of Mauna Loa was recorded in 1843. Since then, it has erupted 33 times, between quiet spells that lasted months or years or decades.
  • Mauna Loa is part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
  • Mauna Loa is home to innumerable Native Hawaiian cultural sites. These sites are historically and presently sacred and vital to the spiritual and practical activities of cultural practitioners.
Mauna Loa Volcano lava flow
Mauna Loa Volcano’s 1984 eruption lava flow.

So, even though the summit is currently closed to visitors, most of it remains accessible as part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Its attractions are endless, from casual hikes and nature-loving to ground-breaking volcanology, biology, climatology, and any number of other scientific disciplines. It is a dynamic constant, at once eternal and ever-changing.

Experiencing Mauna Loa takes careful planning and preparation. A trip to the mountain is never to be taken lightly. We here at Hawaii Aloha Travel can help get you there.

Posted by: Jamie Winpenny on Nov 8, 2022