For the first time in 40 years, Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, erupted.
The lava flow is mostly contained within the summit, but residents have been warned about the possibility of ash falling.
The scenario could abruptly alter, according to the US Geological Service (USGS).
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The alert level for the volcano was also upped from “advisory” to “warning,” the highest rating.
According to emergency officials, no evacuation orders have been issued, and populous areas are unlikely to be affected at this time.
Mauna Loa, located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, covers half of the US state’s Big Island. The volcano is 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) tall and encompasses an area of more than 2,000 square miles (5,179 km2).
It erupted at Moku’weoweo, the volcano’s summit caldera, at about 11:30 p.m. local time (0930 GMT Monday). Calderas are depressions formed beneath the top of an eruption.
Following a number of recent earthquakes in the area, including more than a dozen recorded tremors on Sunday, it came after a series of warnings that an eruption was likely.
An ashfall advisory for the surrounding area, which can contaminate water supplies, harm plants, and irritate the lungs, was issued overnight but has since been revoked.
“Based on prior events,” the USGS warned, “the early stages of a Mauna Loa eruption can be extremely dynamic, with the location and development of lava flows shifting rapidly.”
If the eruption extends beyond the summit caldera’s walls, the lava flows might “travel rapidly downward,” according to the article.
Mauna Loa has erupted 33 times since 1843, according to the USGS. The previous eruption in 1984 pushed lava flows within 5 miles of Hilo, the island’s largest city.
However, the population of the Big Island has more than doubled since 1980, to roughly 200,000 people, and Hawaii’s civil defense organization has warned residents of a “lava disaster.”
“This lava flows rarely endanger life, but they can be highly destructive to infrastructure,” said Dr. Jessica Johnson, a British volcano geophysicist who previously worked at the Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory.
She cautioned that lava flows posed a threat to the bigger population centers of Hilo and Kona and that volcanic gases could cause respiratory problems for residents.
Mauna Loa is the world’s largest active volcano. Other larger volcanoes exist, but they are classified as dormant, which means they haven’t erupted in a long time, or extinct, which means they are almost certain not to erupt in the future.