Hawaii activates National Guard as volcano lava expands

Science News

(NewsNation) — Hawaii officials activated the state’s National Guard Tuesday as the threat of flowing lava worsened.

According to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the state’s Defense Department said on Dec. 5 that outgoing Gov. David Ige and Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara had activated 20 Hawaii National Guard service members to assist with traffic control and in other roles.

The news comes amid the ongoing eruption of Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, which erupted Nov. 27 on the island of Hawaii.

Steven Lundblad, a geology professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, joined “NewsNation Live” Wednesday to explain the greatest threat facing the island as the volcano continues to erupt.

The good news about the volcano right now, Lundblad said, is that it’s a long way from civilization. That peace of mind, however, is just temporary.

“The big concern on the island right now is that it might cut Saddle Road, which is the main arterial across the island. Once it gets close to the road, then maybe folks are going to have a few more issues to worry about,” Lundblad said.

One of those issues includes the possible shutdown of a major astronomy research facility at the summit of Mauna Kea — a 13,803-foot peak next to Mauna Loa that is home to some of the world’s most advanced telescopes.

If lava crosses Saddle Road on either side of Mauna Kea Access Road, many telescope workers would be forced to take long, circuitous routes.

Then there’s the issue of air quality. From volcanic ash and volcanic acid to volcanic smog, or vog, monitoring the air quality has become a point of emphasis along with the nearing lava.

“We have two volcanoes erupting right now. Kīlauea is still erupting — there’s still a lava lake at the summit. So, this is just adding to the amount of volcanic gas that is coming out. That is a real issue, especially on days that are not particularly windy, when gases can get transported out over the ocean a little more,” Lundblad said.

As far as how long Mauna Loa will erupt, Lundblad said there is no telling.

While the last two Mauna Loa eruptions, in 1984 and 1950, lasted about three weeks, because it’s been so long, there is some question as to whether the eruption this time will last longer.

“Volcanic tremors are still occurring and as long as that’s going on, the eruption will just continue to proceed,” Lundblad said.

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