World’s largest active volcano eruption triggers tourism boom

Mauna Loa - Shutterstock

For the first time in nearly 40 years, the largest active volcano in the world has erupted. On Sunday night, Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii erupted, shooting jets of hot lava above 1,000°C that spilled over the crater wall.

Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on Earth, rises 4,169 metres above the Pacific Ocean and is one of the five volcanoes that formed the Hawaiian Islands. Lava is visible spouting more than 30 metres into the air and running down the volcano’s surface, sending a river of molten rock down the major road of Hawaii’s Big Island. USGS officials said Wednesday it could take at least two days for lava flows to reach the main road: the advancing flows “are approaching a relatively flat area and will begin to slow down, spread out, and inflate.”

The lava spectacle has quickly turned into an attraction with thousands of visitors, and according to Gov. David Ige the site it’s still safe to visit. “We would encourage everyone who has plans to visit the island to continue.”

“It is completely safe. The eruption site is high up the mountain, and it’s in a relatively isolated location.”

David Ige

“We are concerned because visitors and residents are stopping along the highway, and sometimes drivers are not paying attention fully,” he told CNN on Wednesday. “So we are concerned about traffic control on the highway.”

The governor acknowledged the possibility of airborne dangers and stated that authorities are monitoring air quality monitors throughout the island. “The concern is about dangerous gases from the fissures. And the most dangerous is sulfur dioxide.”

“Observing the volcano should occur at a distance. It’s not safe to get up close.”

David Ige

Ige has issued an emergency proclamation that “would make available all of the emergency responders, should it be necessary to active the National Guard, to help with control and keeping people away from the volcano. Or should evacuations be necessary, that would just allow us to act quickly and promptly.”

Andrew Hooper, a professor of geophysics at Leeds University said for the news outlet that “the lava flows are not life threatening, because you can get out of the way of them. Also, the lava is not going west down the volcano towards the closest towns, but to the north-east. It would have to travel quite a long way in that direction before doing serious damage to property.”