What's Going on at the Volcano?

July 27, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

As you may have read in one of my other posts I was just in Hawaii for a couple of weeks. I thought doing a post on the volcanoes after returning might be timely.  You may be surprised to learn, though, that I did not visit the volcanoes this trip. Not to sound pessimistic but there just wasn't any point since there aren't any active lava flows and who wants to look at pictures of, well, lots of rock? Believe me, I'd rather there had been active lava flows as I definitely would have spent my entire vacation photographing lava.


At any rate, even while I was there I did my daily check on my volcano through the HVO site and I'll admit I was hoping something was going to happen. Foolishly, I admit.

Speaking of my daily check and the HVO site I was doing my daily check on the 23rd and saw something I haven't seen in the almost four years of religiously checking in. Steam at the summit of Mauna Loa, a lot of steam. Now, it isn't unusual to see some steam rising from the caldera floor but it's usually faint wisps that vanish readily once the sun comes up and warms the air. USGS just recently changed the status of the volcano from "normal" to "advisory". Image Credit: USGS/HVOSteam on Mauna LoaQuite a bit of steam in the Mauna Loa caldera on the morning of 23 July 2019. Image Credit: USGS/HVO

This is due to an increase in activity at the summit and along upper southwest rift
zone. The increase in activity has been the frequency in earthquakes rising above what is considered to be "normal background" levels. It certainly does not mean Mauna Loa is going to erupt any day. These two things did make me wonder if the theory of eruptions alternating between Mauna Loa and Kilauea is more than just a theory. Since the 23rd I have, of course, kept up my daily checks on the HVO site and I haven't seen the same amount steam so who knows. Perhaps it was just an exceptionally cold morning and the weather was conducive to lots of steam collecting within the caldera instead of being blown off... or maybe this was a many fog bank inside the caldera too.  I do wish the HVO would include the current temp and humidity at each camera location as the weather conditions can certainly influence things. I've included a data shot of the increase in seismic activity on Mauna Loa over the past month at the bottom too.

In the meantime, even though Kilauea isn't actively erupting there's clearly still fallout occurring from the eruption. While the main caldera seems to have stabilized and is content to have steam and sulfur lazily drift from fumaroles, Pu'u O'o continues it's collapse. Back in April USGS lost one of it's GPS units as the edge of the crater slowly slid and finally collapsed into the pit. Over 24 hours between 22 and 23 July another small collapse occurred as can be seen in this time-lapse GIF. It doesn't look like we actually catch the collapse happening itself but you can see the dust on the camera lens after it happened. So either this was another minor collapse at the cone or possibly a steam explosion throwing up debris. It's hard to say since the time-lapse doesn't appear  to capture the event itself. This is a time-lapse once per hour over 24 hours and there is a spot where it looks like we see the "explosion" but I believe that's just a change in the weather conditions at the cone. A steam explosion is certainly possible given that it appears a lot of rainwater may have entered the cone/pit which is still quite hot from the magmatic activity.

Pu'u O'o Timelapse24 hour timelapse (once per hour) at the Pu'u O'o cone. We can see evidenice of a collapse or perhaps a steam explosion. Image Credit: USGS/HVO

 

The infograph below shows the distribution of earthquakes at the Mauna Loa summit over the past 30 days. According to USGS there's been a steady uptick in seismic activity on the volcano over the past 30-60 days which can also be seen in the second infograph underneath. 

 

This infograph shows the number of earthquakes per day (blue bars) and the cumulative amount of energy associated (red line). The red line helps to show that seismic activity is increasing. The sudden uptick around 24 July is an indicator in at least one larger earthquake. It's like due to the the mini-swarm of in the center-right of the caldera. These are all indicators of magma on the move but not necessarily an eruption will occur.


 


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