The First Dual Eruption in Decades: What Does It Mean?

Hawaii witness the first dual volcanic eruption in decades.

Are the recent eruptions just a coincidence, or are volcanic eruptions actually on the rise? | via Unsplash

by | Dec 13, 2022

Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, erupted for the first time in nearly 4 decades last month. The more surprising occurrence, however, was the neighboring Kilauea erupting as well. The last dual eruption of the two volcanoes occurred back in 1984, making it a rare event for the Big Island.

According to the US Geological Survey, two new lava flows were seen streaming on Mauna Loa. The survey said that lava fountains as tall as 200 feet burst from Mauna Loa on Monday, a day after the eruption. While the officials have been keeping a close eye on the developments, the event has not been deemed to be threatening to life or infrastructure.

Both volcanoes are located in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and have been erupting for over a year. The national park said that neither volcano was a threat to homes or nearly infrastructure, but officials have said that the air quality could be expected to worsen over some time.

“Based on past events, the early stages of a Mauna Loa rift zone eruption can be very dynamic, and the location and advance of lava flows can change rapidly,” the geological survey said in an update on Monday.

As of now, a total of 47 volcanoes fit the “continuing eruption” status. This indicates eruptive events without a break of 3 months or more. While detailed statistics on the daily activity of these volcanoes are not maintained, it is estimated that around 2 volcanoes are actively erupting on any given day.

While volcanic eruptions are certainly a sight to behold, they are a manifestation of complicated, large-scale processes originating deep inside the Earth. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), about 1,350 potentially active volcanoes are spread across the Earth.

Many of these volcanoes are located along the Pacific Rim in a region known as the “Ring of Fire.” The Hawaiian volcanoes form over a ‘hot spot’ near the center of the Ring, making it potentially one of the most volcanically and seismically active soles around the world.

Volcanoes Are What Brought Hawaii Into Existence

Without volcanoes, Hawaii would not have existed on the map. The primary islands that make up the Hawaiian archipelago came into existence solely because of the volcanic hotspot that is Hawaii. The hotspot is currently thought to be located below the youngest and most active region – the Big Island. This is what is expected to fuel the current most active volcanoes: Mauna Loa, Kilauea, Hualalai, and the underwater volcano Loihi.

Most volcanoes originate near the edges of Earth’s tectonic plates, which shift continuously beneath the planet’s surface, forming volcanoes in different locations. Such is not the case, however, for the Hawaiian volcanoes.

Hawaii is located in the middle of a volcanic hot spot, far away from any oceanic plate boundary. Being right in the middle of the Pacific Plate separates it from other typical volcanoes. While the hotspot itself remains stationary, the Pacific Plate does not. This also causes a shift in the volcanic activity on the planet’s surface.

The volcanoes that erupt and expel magma cool down over millions of years, forming the chain of islands that we now know as Hawaii. Over time, rain, wind, and microbes break down the rocks, and enrich the soil formed, giving rise to the tropical islands that have been among the biggest tourist attractions around the world.

Will We Witness More Volcanic Eruptions Around the World?

According to the data through 2009, the Global Volcanism Program suggests that there is no evidence that volcanic activity is actually increasing. According to the inspection of data since 1800 CE, global pulsations in this activity can be observed in the form of “peaks and valleys.”

This does not, however, take away the imminent threat that volcanic eruptions pose – both to the climate and environment and to human health. The geological agency in Hawaii has said that volcanic gas, fine as, and Pele’s hair could be carried downwind from the eruptions.

The mixture of rocks, minerals, and glass particles that are expelled from a volcano during a volcanic eruption is what we call volcanic ash. These particles can measure less than 2 mm in diameter and can be easily transported up to thousands of kilometers by the wind.

If infants, elderly people, or people with respiratory conditions like asthma or emphysema inhale this volcanic ash, it can have a number of health consequences. The ash is abrasive and can damage your respiratory system. Prolonged exposure to such particles can also lead to silicosis – causing inflammation in the lungs.

Volcanoes also emit gasses like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide. And hydrogen sulfide, all of which are variable toxic to humans and other organisms. Estimates suggest that volcanoes also emit around 200 million tons of carbon dioxide every year (this does not, however, come even close to the amount produced by human activities).

While most gases from volcanoes blow away quite quickly, heavier gases like carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide can settle down, especially in low-altitude regions. Short-term exposure to such gases can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat. Long-term exposure, especially in high concentrations can cause headaches, breathing issues, swelling, dizziness, and suffocation.

During major volcanic eruptions, some environmental changes are to be expected, but most scientists suggest that it has little impact on climate change. Volcanic gases have the potential to cause global cooling and warming, but the impact is generally of no long-term consequences.