THE WORLD’s largest volcano has been observed changing internally as blazing magma shifts around.
The Mauna Loa volcano is more than five miles tall and researchers know just what it’ll take to set the volcano off.
Advanced ground- and satellite-based measuring tools indicate to researchers that the .04 square miles of new magma has flowed into the volcano chamber between 2014 and 2020.
By tracking the magma’s motion, the study authors determined the most likely causes of an eruption.
“An earthquake of magnitude 6 or greater would relieve the stress imparted by the influx of magma along a sub-horizontal fault under the western flank of the volcano,” University of Miami PhD candidate and study author Bhuvan Varugu said in a press release.
“This earthquake could trigger an eruption.”
“An earthquake could be a game changer,” University of Miami professor Falk Amelung said in the same press release.
“It would release gases from the magma comparable to shaking a soda bottle, generating additional pressure and buoyancy, sufficient to break the rock above the magma.”
When Mauna Loa erupted in 1950, it took just three hours for the lava to meet the Kona Coast about 30 miles away.
Both the 1950 eruption and another devastating eruption in 1984 were preceded by large earthquakes, giving researchers insight for predicting the volcano’s behavior.
Mauna Loa is a “shield volcano” – a type of volcano that is particularly threatening to the surrounding area because it’s lava is not viscous and will flow faster and farther.
In 1950, almost 280,000 cubic miles of lava flowed from Mauna Loa, destroying infrastructure over the course of 23 days.
Volcanoes and their related disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes represent natural threats to society that are observed closely but can spring on cities with little warning.
“Major volcanic eruptions are underappreciated as civilizational risks,” Elon Musk tweeted on July 23.
Fortunately, Mauna Loa eruptions have not killed anyone in this century though crops and water have been contaminated by the eruptions’ effects.
“We will continue observing and this will eventually lead to better models to forecast the next eruption site,” Professor Amelung said.