UPDATE: Only lowest of 3 fissures remains active on Mauna Loa; lava flow at 10,000 feet
Update 5 p.m. Monday: Of the three fissures that were fountaining lava on the northeast rift zone of Mauna Loa, only the lowest one was still active as of 1:30 p.m. Monday, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Estimates of the tallest fountain heights are between 100 to 200 feet, but most are a few yards tall.
The fissures sent lava flows to the northeast and parallel to the rift zone. Lava flows from the two higher fissures moved downslope but stalled about 11 miles from Saddle Road.
Fissure 3 is currently feeding lava flows moving east parallel to the Northeast Rift Zone. These remain at above 10,000 feet elevation and more than 10 miles away from Saddle Road. We do not expect upper fissures to reactivate.
But fissures could open along the Northeast Rift Zone below the current location, and lava flows can continue to travel downslope.
There is no active lava within Moku’āweoweo caldera, and there is no lava erupting from the Southwest Rift Zone. The observatory does not expect any eruptive activity outside the Northeast Rift Zone. No property is at risk currently.
There is a visible gas plume from the erupting fissure fountains and lava flows, with the plume primarily being blown to the Northwest.
Original story: Three fissures have opened and are fountaining lava on the northeast rift zone of Mauna Loa, officials said during a state press conference Monday afternoon.
Ken Hon, Hawaiʻi Volcano Observatory Scientist-in-Charge, said the fissures are about two to three miles in length and the fountaining is relatively low at 100 to 200 feet in height. As of now, no communities are threatened by the eruption.
Hon said the flow is looking normal for the slopes, adding a typical eruption for Mauna Loa could last one to two weeks, based on past rift eruptions.
“We won’t know until it’s over,” Hon said, adding there is nothing unusual about how the eruption is unfolding at this time.
The eruption started late Sunday night in the caldera. The volcanic activity progressed from a summit eruption to a rift zone eruption and Mauna Loa chose the northeast rift zone to be the center of eruption activity, Hon explained.
The northeast rift zone empties into the Saddle area where there’s no real habitation. The U.S. military’s Pohakuloa Training Area is located in the area, but the only facility that could be threatened is the Mauna Loa Weather Observatory. While not directly threatened, Hon said there’s a chance the observatory’s road be cut off by the lava flows.
In the long term, Hon said this kind of lava flow is similar to what happened in 1984 and could potentially threaten populated areas around Hilo, but it would be about a week before lava got anywhere near that direction.
“We’re hoping that it will parallel with the 1984 eruption, and this lava flow, while it will be a big spectacular event, hopefully, it will have relatively little impact on residents and visitors to the island,” Hon said.
Hawaiʻi Gov. David Ige encouraged people to stay away from the rift zones because they are in small, isolated areas. While Mauna Loa is erupting, the governor said visitors do not need to make changes in their plans to come to the Big Island at this time.
Mayor Mitch Roth said Hawaiʻi County has activated its Civil Defense Emergency Operation Centers. Right now, he said the lava is heading away from populated areas and property.
Mayor Roth saw the volcano during a flyover with the U.S. Coast Guard. He was with members of the Hawai’i Civil Defense Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey and other state and county officials flew in a C-130 Hercules aircrew from Air Station Barbers Point to assess the situation from the air.
To watch the aerial video: https://www.dvidshub.net/video/embed/865669.
“The Coast Guard values these inter-agency relationships and stands ready to support emergency operations across the Hawaiian Islands if capable,” said Lt. Eric Juback, D14 command duty officer.
The National Guard has not been activated but is on standby.
“We feel very confident in the situation,” Roth said.
The state Department of Health is monitoring air quality. While an N95 mask can protect against particulate matters from ash and Pele’s hair, it doesn’t protect from the gases that are emitted from the flows.
Department of Health Director Libby Char said air quality seems to be good but the agency will continue to track it.