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Volcanic History Could Tell The Future

January 8, 2014, 3:33 PM HST
* Updated September 8, 6:54 PM
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If you’ve ever wondered about the prominent lava flows and volcanic landscapes along Māmalahoa and Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highways, stretching from Ka‘ū to North Kona, you’re in luck. They will be the focus of a free public talk offered by US Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 22.

HVO Scientist-in-Charge Jim Kauahikaua and geologist Janet Babb will recount the volcanic history, stories, and impacts of volcanic features flanking Highways 11 and 190 in a virtual road trip presented in the NELHA Gateway Visitor Center, 73-4460 Queen Kaahumanu Hwy.

Kauahikaua and Babb are presenting their talk to remind people that Mauna Loa and Hualālai are active volcanoes that will erupt again, said a USGS release. “Because past volcanic activity is an indication of what could happen in the future, it’s important for Hawai‘i residents to be aware of the potential hazards of these volcanoes,” Kauahikaua said.

Kauahikaua will talk about lava flows erupted from Mauna Loa and Hualālai in the 1800s, beginning with the 1868 Mauna Loa flow in the Ka‘ū District of Hawai‘i Island. “This flow has an interesting history because the eruption was accompanied by a devastating earthquake, with an estimated magnitude of 7.9, and deadly tsunami in Ka‘ū,” he said.

Continuing from the Ka‘ū District to North Kona, he will also tell about the destruction caused by lava flows erupted from Hualālai in pre-contact years to the early 19th century. According Kauahikaua, these remarkable flows destroyed Hawaiian villages and fish ponds and changed the West Hawai‘i coastline.


Babb will recount stories from Mauna Loa eruptions in the 1900s, one of which sent lava flows to the sea in a surprisingly short period of time. “In 1950, a fissure high on Mauna Loa’s Southwest Rift Zone erupted a fast-moving ‘a‘ā lava flow that crossed the main highway within three hours,” she said. Soon after, another lava flow inundated the village of Pāhoehoe, where it destroyed about two dozen structures, before reaching the ocean.


The presentation will include photographs and sketches from the 1800s and 1900s and film from the Mauna Loa 1950 eruption, as well as images of how the flows and volcanic landscape appear today.

The presentation is offered during HVO’s 5th annual Volcano Awareness Month in January. Visit the HVO website (http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov) or call 967-8844.

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