The largest volcano on Earth, Mauna Loa, sits on the Island of Hawaii. In fact, Mauna Loa takes up about half of the island itself with an area of 5,271 km2. Despite its benign appearance, Mauna Loa is remains an active volcano that has erupted 33 times since 1843. When Mauna Loa erupts, its lava flows at up to 20 miles per hour toward the Island of Hawaii’s coast.
The most recent eruption occurred in 1984. A most notable eruption took place in 1950, just over 30 years earlier (with another eruption occurring in between). The eruption in 1950 caused a significant amount of concern for local island residents. Volcanic lava flowed from Mauna Loa to Highway 11, cutting off the local village from escaping. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt but it was a close call.
After an eruption, clouds of “vog” and “laze” form in the sky. The vog and laze are contain hazardous materials, like sulfur dioxide and hydrochloric acid. The northeasterly trade winds lead the clouds around the Island of Hawaii and eventually they collect on the western side of Hawaii. The western coastal region of Hawaii is a major tourist area. This contributes to tourism very temporarily waning after an eruption of Mauna Loa.
It would seem that these events would decrease tourism for a while. Certainly, volcanic clouds do temporarily limit the ability of flights to come into or leave the island. However, tourism in the long term was not negatively affected by the eruptions in 1950, 1975, or 1984. In fact, the eruptions have made more people aware of the existence of Mauna Loa and it has become a popular sight to see for vacationers in Hawaii. Perhaps directing tourism to the volcano and away from the coast will give spinner dolphins a break from the stresses brought on by human interaction.
Mauna Loa’s eruptions may affect spinner dolphins more directly. If lava reaches the coastal waters, the water rapidly heats and even begins to boil. The noxious gasses that are hazardous for human inhalation would also be harmful to dolphins. Luckily, dolphins are highly mobile and can leave the more dangerous areas very quickly.
Current Mauna Loa activity can be monitored at this website: http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/maunaloa/current/
For more information, look to:
Picture courtesy of: USGS. 2006. Mauna Loa: Earth’s Largest Volcano, Lava Flows and their Effects, & Volcano Watch. http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/maunaloa/