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Volcanoes formed Hawaii

by Allen Artiss, staff writer

Amidst all the beauty of the Hawaiian islands, few people think about how the islands were formed. Though most of the volcanic activity in the leeward islands has subsided, there is still a huge impact made by volcanoes on the windward islands. On the Big Island of Hawai‘i, where Kilauea has been in constant eruption since 1983, scientists recently forecast an impending eruption on Mauna Loa.
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Maui’s Haleakala, famous for its observatory, last erupted in the late 1700s and is still considered active; Kohala and Mauna Kea are dormant, and Hualalai has been inactive since 1801.

The remaining two of five volcanoes on the Big Island, Mauna Loa and Kilauea, have not been quite so quiescent. Mauna Loa erupted twice in recent times, in 1975 and 1984, and more than 30 other times before that in the 20th century. Kilauea is even more active and is famous around the world for its incredible vents, which allow for magnificent pictures and helicopter tours.


Mauna Loa has been dormant since 1984, though recent reports of summit inflation suggest it is getting ready to blow once again. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory constantly record seismic and other activities to try and predict exactly when an eruption will occur.

Since the eruptions of ’75 and ’84, scientists’ ability to gauge activity which is potentially explosive has improved. In the years preceding both eruptions, scientists measured a sharp increase in seismic activity and a swelling of the ground surface in areas where the magma chambers are known to be located. This let the scientists know that the reservoirs were filling with magma.

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In addition to seismographs, electronic tilt-meters and GPS systems let the scientists detect changes or formations in the ground structure. This alerts them to activity in the magma chambers.


In 1993, scientists recorded swelling of the surface, which led them to believe an eruption was imminent. However, the pre-eruptive symptoms reversed, the swelling went down, and the magma in the chambers receded.

These same pre-eruptive symptoms—the ground swelling and increased seismic activity—have been detected in the last few months, and recent news articles have quoted scientists predicting an eruption in the near future.


According to the official Web site of the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, the whole story has been blown out of proportion. One page concerning the activity of Mauna Loa said: “Nothing has changed, and there is no reason to envision ‘devastation without much warning,’ as one story put it. The inflation will likely, but not certainly, culminate in an eruption, but it is impossible to say when that eruption might take place, where it might take place, how large it might be, how long it might last, or whether it might send lava into populated areas.”

The site also reassures us that there really is not too much to worry about: “It is also well to remember that Mauna Loa is not an explosive volcano, and that there have been no fatalities from any of the 33 Mauna Loa eruptions since 1843, when written records start.”



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