Hawaii County

Mauna Loa danger
overstated, expert says

A scientist on the Big Island says
national reports are overblown

By Peter Serafin
Special to the Star-Bulletin

VOLCANO, Hawaii >> Scientists at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory have fielded more than 1,000 phone calls and e-mails from people concerned about a possible eruption of Mauna Loa.

That's because of national news reports warning that large sections of the Big Island could be inundated with lava by early next year.

"The danger is overstated," said Don Swanson, chief scientist in charge of the U.S. Geological Service laboratory in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

"Paraphrased comments made by an HVO scientist have been packaged in a doom-and-gloom context to make an unnecessarily alarming, splashy story," he said.

Stanford University researchers, working with observatory scientists, announced on Sept. 29 that they had measured slight expansion in Mauna Loa, which could indicate pre-eruption activity.

Swanson said the slight swelling of less than one inch began on May 12, but has increased no further since the announcement three weeks ago.

Swanson especially took issue with a CNN report that said, "lava could reach Hilo on the eastern side of the Island of Hawaii and the 'Gold Coast' resorts in Kona on the west, inundated neighborhoods on the southwest rift zone above South Point -- possibly without much warning."

"That's an exaggeration," said Swanson. "It's gotten to the point where it's scaring people. It's virtually impossible for one eruption to affect all those areas."

However, the area is not without danger. Mauna Loa has erupted 33 times since 1843, most recently 18 years ago. While inflation of the type currently under way could lead to an eruption, this is by no means certain. Such periods of inflation are often followed by deflation.

"We saw prolonged inflation between 1984 and 1993," he said Swanson. "That was followed by a period of deflation."

Swanson's prediction for future activity?

"It's sure that Mauna Loa will erupt again," he says, "but we don't know if this current inflation will lead to eruption."

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

County of Hawaii

E-mail to City Desk


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