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Hawaii is Hit by Dozens of Earthquakes as the World’s Biggest Volcano Erupts

Hawaii is Hit by Dozens of Earthquakes as the World's Biggest Volcano Erupts
The lava-filled Moku'āweoweo caldera as captured by the USGC webcam. (Image credit: US Geological Survey)

The world’s largest active volcano, Mauna Loa in Hawaii, is erupting for the first time in almost 40 years.

After the volcano’s Moku’weoweo summit caldera erupted on Sunday night (Nov. 27), the area was hit by dozens of earthquakes, including one with a magnitude of 4.2. Officials have warned people on Hawaii’s Big Island to be careful because ash is falling from the sky.

So far, Hawaii’s Tourism Agency says, the lava flows from the eruption are not a threat to people who live downhill from it, and air travel is not being affected.

“At this time, lava flows are contained within the summit area and are not threatening downslope communities,” officials from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) wrote in a hazard notification(opens in new tab). They warned, however, that, “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.”

Hawaii is Hit by Dozens of Earthquakes as the World's Biggest Volcano Erupts

The alert, issued in conjunction with USGS’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), noted that the HVO is set to perform aerial reconnaissance flights as soon as possible “to assess hazards and better describe the eruption,” and that “winds may carry volcanic gas and possibly fine ash and Pele’s Hair downwind.” Pele’s hair is thin strands of volcanic glass formed from cooling lava, which can be carried aloft by strong winds and are sharp enough to lacerate skin and eyes.

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According to the USGS, Mauna Loa covers more than half of Hawaii’s Big Island and rises 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) above the Pacific Ocean (opens in new tab). Since 1843, when its first known eruption was recorded, the volcano has erupted 33 times. The last time it erupted was in 1984 when lava came close to the city of Hilo. After that, Mauna Loa went through the longest time it has ever been quiet (opens in new tab).

Since September, geologists have been watching a rise in the number of earthquakes as a warning sign for an eruption. In June, there were 5–10 earthquakes a day, and by October, there were up to 40 a day.

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