Lava Update and Other Things

It is Friday morning and I’m up at 6am. I’m streaming the internet radio station Riviera.FM from the UK and getting ready to do some cleaning and a trip to town.

It has been a few days since Mauna Loa volcano started spewing lava across the island. Mauna Loa means “Long Mountain” compared to the neighbor volcano Mauna Kea which means “White Mountain”. Both get snow but Mauna Kea is more easily accessable. In any event, Mauna Loa is a very large volcano measuring 18,000 cubic miles! above sea level but another 20,000 feet below sea level making it the second tallest mountain in the world after Mauna Kea. They are just partially covered with sea water.

The Big Island is actually composed of 5 volcanos, the other 3 not so big. Mauna Loa has erupted many times over its’ 600,000 to 1 million year life. There is a wealth of information about it on wikipedia so I won’t post it all here.

So I woke up Wednesday to messages asking if I was alright. Overnight a number of earthquakes signaled that Mauna Loa was erupting with 148 foot fountains of lava shooting into the sky. Actually many of us had slept through the quakes. That particular location has seen an increase in earthquakes in recent monts. Administrators were not very concerned because we only went for something like 50 quakes a day in that region to perhaps 100 a day. Thus is was not a signal of a massive event in the making. In reality it still isn’t by historical perspective. The lava flowing now is not as impressive as we have had in the past and it is also flowing to the northeast away from all development and locations where a lot of people live. That is not to say that it is benign. The lava flow has already crossed an access road and is threatening a major access road.

The island is generally 90 miles by 90 miles. There is a road which changes names but circles the outer edge of the island. Most people live near that road because it is close to sea level. The island rises to 14,000 feet within about 45 miles from there; rising fairly quickly in altitude with corresponding temeperture drop. The top of the volcanos is close to freezing often.

The road threatened now is called Saddle Road and is a throughway betwwen those two tall volcanos, Mauna Kae and Mauna Loa. It used to be a very dangerous road to travel, in some places with single lane bridges and lave and a half widths at times. Federal money was allocated to bring it up to Federal standards. There is a military training site up there, a recrational camp, access roads to the summit of both the tall volcanos and access betwee nthe west and east sides of the island so we don’t have to spend hours driving around. Traffic is stead but not overwhelming. Most citizens are driving across the island and many are using that road to access the Mauna Kea volcano visitors center and observatory location. Mauna Loa has an access road there but it is not a popular visitors location. It has air quality monitoring, an observatory and a site where astronauts have trained.

Saddle Road allows us to move freight, food and people across the island quickly. Many people commute using that road. Unlike most roads on this island, it allows speeds of over 50 miles per hour. Besides that, as I said, the military site.

So the lava flow is about 3 miles from Saddle Road. Crossing the road would cut off travel between the west side and the east side and we would be forced to circle the island to get to the other side. Not impossible but a real drive. The drive along the top end of the island involves a numer of bridges on the east side, a number of them have had recent construction to repair them and I don’t thing they are all completed yet.

So it will be a challange if the flow continues. Keep in mind that this is not the only lava flow on the island as Kilauea is also leaking lava within the Volcano National Park at the southeast side of the island.

Our visitor count has slowly returned and I hear we are within about 4 percent of Pre COVID numbers. The thought of visiting Hawaii and seeing flowing lava is enough to bump those numbers up pretty quickly as these flows could continue for years or abruptly stop. Whether seeing glowing rivers of liquid rock or just a glow through cracks in the ground is enough to trigger tourism which we really need.

If you wish to read about our volcanos, go here:

In contrast, Yellowstone National Park has volcanic basis. Old Faithful goes off like clockwork shooting a jet of heated water into the air on a predictable schedule. Here experts might get a call from someone asking if that funny smell of sulpher and steam which just appeared in their back yard is a concern!

So as I say, we are fairly familiar with both lava and earthquakes. I have had a couple earthquakes centered a mile from my house. They were small enogh that I never noticed them. Then there have been the 6.8 or so quakes which rock our world recently. During the lava flows a few years ago, that area was rocked with thousands of quakes in a day. In the more distant past we have had a 7.9 quake.

So that is the current state of things. No real VOG (volcanic smog) has reached our farm, but that may change as the winds change. If the lava flow decides to change directions, the maps say that I would have between 3 hours and 14 hours to get out of the area. But currently, life goes on.