East Hawaii News

Volcanic Eruptions Here, There and Almost Everywhere

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The Big Island will likely not be the only location for future volcanic eruptions in Hawaii, scientists from Hawaiian Volcano Observatory say.

Haleakela volcano on Maui has erupted at least once in the past 500 years and will probably do it again, HVO said this week in its latest Volcano Watch column.

And underwater eruptions have been reported west of Maui three times in the past 60 years alone.

One of those came only two years ago when a sea captain reported “steam rising up violently from the sea surface” in the vicinity of Milwaukee Bank.

The bank is located nearly 2,000 miles northwest of Honolulu in the Emperor seamount chain, the extension of volcanoes created by the “hot spot” that is building the Big Island today.

The location of Milwaukee Bank is shown in this modified Google Earth image (click to enlarge).

The location of Milwaukee Bank is shown in this modified Google Earth image (click to enlarge).

Scientists say no samples were collected so it cannot be confirmed that volcanic activity had occurred.

The report that is most intriguing, geologists said, occurred in the channel between Kauai and Oahu in 1956.

The pilot of a military transport reported a square mile of boiling water with sulfur and ashes in the waves, and that his crew smelled sulfur fumes.

Although signs of the eruption faded within a few days, pumice was found washed up on Oahu beaches six days after the initial report.

Gordon Macdonald, HVO’s scientist-in-charge at the time, examined the frothy rock and said it appeared to be the product of a submarine eruption.

Scientists are still debating whether the pumice was locally produced – perhaps from the Ka`ena Ridge, a precursor volcano to the island of Oahu believed to have been active 3.5 million years ago – or from a 1952 eruption off Mexico.

Based on differences in descriptions of the two, HVO believes it was more likely to be of Hawaiian origin.


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