Purdue professor: Mauna Loa lava flows could threaten populated areas

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Lava flows from the Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii could threaten people living there, according to a professor from Purdue University.

Mauna Loa, one of the five volcanoes that form the island of Hawaii — also called the “Big Island” — erupted on Sunday for the first time since 1984 and has been shooting lava fountains of magma up to 100 feet in the air.

Dr. Jonathan Delph, an assistant professor of seismology at Purdue’s department of Earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences, says the biggest threat to the island of Hawaii is lava flows reaching homes and businesses.

However, Delph said Wednesday, officials on the island are not “particularly concerned” right now because the eruption has so far resulted in a relatively small amount of lava that has stayed near the summit. Other hazards, including ash, dust, and earthquakes, are being monitored by scientists.

Even though it’s been nearly 40 years since Mauna Loa’s last eruption, Delph says these kinds of geological events are actually fairly common.

“So over, let’s say, geologic time scales, which are thousands of years, this is a very common event. This is basically why Hawaii looks like it does, because of eruptions coming out of the Mauna Loa and other associated magmatic centers. On the human time scale though, things are a little harder to predict, but we’re really good at monitoring whether there’s potential for an eruption.”

No recent eruptions of Mauna Loa have caused deaths, but eruptions in 1926 and 1950 destroyed nearby villages. The city of Hilo, the largest settlement on the Big Island, is partially built on lava flows formed in the late 1800s.

Mauna Loa is not the only active volcano on the island of Hawaii. Kilauea, located on the southeastern shore, has been erupting since Sept. 29, 2021.