The world’s largest active volcano, Mauna Loa, on the Big Island of Hawaii has displayed an increase in seismic activity in recent months, prompting officials to warn residents of a potential eruption.
Mauna Loa is among the world’s most active volcanoes, having erupted 33 times since 1843, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
During the last eruption in 1984, lava flowed down its eastern flank before coming to an abrupt stop just 4.5 miles (7.2 kilometers) short of Hilo, the most populous town on the island.
While scientists say an eruption isn’t imminent, they remain alert due to a recent spike in earthquakes at the summit of the volcano, which makes up 51 percent of the island’s landmass, meaning it can be difficult to predict which areas might be impacted by a potential eruption.
Frank Trusdell, a research geologist at the USGS’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, told The Associated Press that Mauna Loa is in an “elevated state of background seismicity” and that there is “some inflation of the volcano.”
“Now recently, in the last three weeks or so, we had an increase in seismicity up to over a hundred events per day, and that then translated into us getting a little bit more concerned, therefore us going out with public information statements to the public and our cooperators saying ‘it looks like the volcano is showing unrest due to influx of magma,’” Trusdell said.
‘Showing Signs Of Unrest’
The research geologist added that due to the volcano “showing signs of unrest,” local residents should start making plans to protect themselves in the case of an emergency, such as establishing where on the volcano they live and how quickly lava flows can reach their area.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency (HCDA) has also advised the public to have an emergency bag packed with food and other essential items ready to go in case of an eruption and to arrange a place to stay if they are forced to leave home. They have also urged the public to make plans to reunite with family members if such a situation were to occur.
“Not to panic everybody, but they have to be aware of that you live on the slopes of Mauna Loa. There’s a potential for some kind of lava disaster,” said Talmadge Magno, the administrator for HCDA.
In a press release on Thursday, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) said that the continued seismic activity on Mauna Loa is “causing concern” among locals on the island but again stressed that there are “no signs an eruption is imminent.”
HI-EMA and HCDA have both increased monitoring of the volcano, the press release stated, while the volcano observatory has been issuing daily reports on the volcano’s activity since September and indicated its scientists do not see an immediate threat of eruption.
USGS said on Thursday that there had been 19 small-magnitude earthquakes 2 to 3 miles (3 to 5 km) below the Mokuʻāweoweo caldera—the crater at the summit of Mauna Loa—and 4 to 5 miles (6 to 8 km) beneath the upper-elevation northwest flank of the volcano within the past 24 hours.
Since mid-September, scientists saw an increase in summit earthquakes which jumped from 10 to 20 per day to 40 to 50 per day, USGS said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.