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After one week, Mauna Loa has a single active fissure; continues slow advance

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View of the Fissure 3 erupting high on the Northeast Rift Zone of Mauna Loa the morning of December 3, 2022. The eruption is generating a volcanic gas plume that is lofting high and vertically into the atmosphere before being blown to the west at high altitude, generating vog in areas downwind. Vog information can be found at https://vog.ivhhn.org/. USGS image by F. Trusdell.

Aviation threat reduced, Color reduced to Orange

Update: 8:19 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022

Lava eruption from fissure 3 on the Northeast Rift Zone of Mauna Loa continues, but the threat to aviation of significant volcanic ash emission into the atmosphere has passed, according to a morning update issued by the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. For this reason, HVO has reduced the aviation color code from RED to ORANGE.   

While the aviation threat is reduced, the ground-based volcano alert level remains at WARNING, reflecting the ongoing hazards of the fissure 3 lava flow.

Lava flows from the lone active fissure are slowly advancing north toward the Daniel K. Inouye Highway. The HVO reports that the flows are spreading out and inflating (thickening) as they advance over low-sloping ground.

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“The fronts of lava flows can break open unexpectedly, sending flows in several directions. Rain on lava creates steam and reduces visibility. If visiting the County of Hawai’i public viewing area, remain with your vehicle and do not approach the flows,” the HVO advises.

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a temporary flight restriction extending from the surface to 1500 feet above ground level in the eruption area. 

Flight restriction map (Dec. 4, 2022)

Mauna Loa flow slows as it advances on flat ground

Update: 4:32 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022

A single fissure remains active at the Mauna Loa volcano, with little change in activity over the past 24 hours.

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Fissure 3 continues to feed lava downslope, but the flow front remained about 2.4 miles from the Daniel K. Inouye Highway (Saddle Road) at around 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.

The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reports that the lava continued to advance at a rate of about 40 feet per hour. “Though the advance rate has slowed over the past 24 hours, the lava flow remains active,” according to HVO scientists.

The latest eruption began a week ago on Sunday evening, Nov. 27, when HVO scientists were alerted to an earthquake swarm beneath Mauna Loa. By 11:30 p.m., lava had broken the surface within the Moku‘āweoweo summit caldera. It marked the first eruption at Mauna Loa in 38 years.

Image of a webcam deployed to monitor the Northeast Rift Zone eruption of Mauna Loa. See this webcam for all Mauna Loa webcams: https://www.usgs.gov/volcanoes/mauna-loa/webcams. USGS image by K. Mulliken.

HVO scientists say advance rates may be highly variable over the coming days and weeks, noting that additional breakouts may occur if lava channels get blocked upslope.

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“There are many variables at play and both the direction and timing of flow advances are expected to change over periods of hours to days, making it difficult to estimate when or if the flow will impact Daniel K. Inouye Highway,” according to the latest update from the HVO. 

A USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory gas specialist uses a FTIR spectrometer on the Northeast Rift Zone of Mauna Loa. The FTIR measures the composition of the gases being emitted during the eruption by measuring how the plume absorbs infrared energy. The plume being generated by the ongoing eruption is sulfur-dioxide (SO2) rich, but also contains water vapor, carbon dioxide, and halogen gases such as HCl and HF. USGS image by M. Patrick.

Vog continues to be blown downwind, and strand of volcanic glass or Pele’s hair have been repaired as far as the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station.

The HVO says tremor continues at fissure 3, indicating that magma is still being supplied, and the flow remains active. Scientists with the HVO say no property is currently at risk. 

This map shows areas of surface change as determined through a comparison of satellite radar images acquired on November 16, 2022 and December 2 at 6:13 a.m. HST. Bluish colors show areas of major change and indicate lava flows that were active during the time spanned. Pink and yellow colors show areas of no surface change. The image depicts lava flow activity in the SW summit region, within Mokuʻāweoweo (Mauna Loa’s summit caldera), and along the NE Rift Zone, where the eruption has localized at Fissure 3. Though the SW activity appears to have occurred outside of Mokuʻāweoweo, the structural definition of Mauna Loa’s summit region is larger than the main topographic caldera and is approximated by the dashed white line. These data will be used by HVO geologists to precisely map the areas covered by lava flows during the first few days of the eruption, since they provide high-resolution and comprehensive views that are not available from other data. Stay tuned for the forthcoming HVO map! Data are from the COSMO-SkyMed constellation of radar satellites, provided by the Italian Space Agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana) through the Hawaiʻi Supersite.

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Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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