Word has traveled quickly across the Islands that Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, is seeing more earthquakes than usual. It isn’t currently erupting but the increase in small earthquakes caused it’s advisory level to be raised from green to yellow in September. While that means it will be closely monitored by the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, I want to be very clear: There’s no need to panic or cancel travel plans to the Big Island of Hawaii.
When the neighboring Kilauea volcano erupted in 2018, much of the news focused on the destruction it caused without orientating the viewer on where it was happening geographically. So, while the world was focused on the lava flows on the island’s east side, the rest of the island, including Hilo, Kona, Waikoloa and Waimea were unaffected (aside from the vog, or volcanic smog, that from time to time blew in their direction). But you’d never know other towns were operating as normal by watching the news, and tourism to the island suffered because of it.
So, when it comes to Hawaii’s volcanoes, keep in mind that the Big Island is just as its nickname suggests — it’s big — and Hawaii’s shield volcanoes do not fall into the same explosive category as Mount St. Helens. Hawaii’s volcanoes do not blow their tops; they’re not conical, but rather they are known for their gentle slopes. And when there are volcanic eruptions, it doesn’t mean there’s lava covering the entire island.
When it comes to Mauna Loa, understanding the facts will help you. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has detected about 40 to 50 earthquakes per day since mid-September when it was used to recording about 20 earthquakes per day, which is partly why the advisory level was raised to yellow. But when you compare that number to the hundreds of temblors per day recorded for weeks prior to the volcano’s last eruption in 1983, then you can see why scientists say, “there are no indications that an eruption is imminent.” That’s a huge difference.
If an eruption is more likely, the advisory level will be upgraded to orange or red. It’s impossible to know when that would happen or if Mauna Loa will simply quiet down. But for now, everything is fine, keep traveling — and look to the United States Geological Survey for the latest updates.
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