Flowing Hot Lava

For the first time in my long life, I had the chance to view hot flowing lava, when I flew over Mauna Loa during the 2022 eruption. Mauna Loa, on the big island of Hawaii, is the largest active volcano in the world, and it had not erupted for 38 years prior to December 2022. Upon hearing that this eruption and our vacation would overlap, I was first worried that our non-refundable trip was doomed. After checking with a friend who lives on Hawaii Island, we kept our original plans and arrived on December 3. Fortunately, we enjoyed clear skies over the west coast Kona region, and some unique sightings of the lava flow. I even got my friend Dennis, who lives on Hawaii, out on his first helicopter adventure.

Lava flowing from Fissure 3 of Mauna Loa on Hawaii in December 2022, as seen from a helicopter.
Flowing lava finds the path of least resistance as it flows like rivers down Mauna Loa, the “long mountain,” in December 2022, as seen from a helicopter. Hawaii, Big Island.

Newest Land on the Planet

Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano on Earth, is erupting now on the Big Island of Hawaii. As molten lava spews into the air and flows down the long mountain slopes, the newest land on the planet is forming.

In the wee hours of Monday December 5, I made these photographs from the safe distance of 2 miles. You can appreciate the ferocity of the fire and hot lava.

Mauna Loa eruption on December 5, 2022 seen from Old Saddle Road. Copyright Cathy Kelly.
Mauna Loa
Tremendous gas cloud forms over the eruption of Mauna Loa on December 5, 2022.
Copyright Cathy Kelly

Here is some background information on Mauna Loa and the meaning of its name from the U. S. Geological Survey. (This quote was written before the current eruption of 2022.)

“The Hawaiian name “Mauna Loa” means “Long Mountain.” This name is apt, for the subaerial part of Mauna Loa extends for about 120 km (74 mi) from the southern tip of the island to the summit caldera and then east-northeast to the coastline near Hilo.

Mauna Loa is among Earth’s most active volcanoes, having erupted 33 times since its first well-documented historical eruption in 1843. It has produced large, voluminous flows of basalt that have reached the ocean eight times since 1868. It last erupted in 1984, when a lava flow came within 7.2 km (4.5 mi) of Hilo, the largest population center on the island. “

Mauna Loa Erupting

What incredible good luck to witness a volcano erupting! Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii, just began to spew molten lava one week ago — for the first time in 38 years. When I first heard the news, I feared that our planned family vacation might be canceled for safety reasons. Fortunately, the lava flow and the harmful gases known as vog, have been limited to unpopulated regions of the island. Hundreds of curious onlookers can witness this extraordinary sight from two to three miles away from the viewpoint of Old Saddle Road.

The lava flow is best seen at night, when the molten lava creates a dramatic contrast with the dark sky and land. My good friend Dennis, who lives here on Hawaii, met me at 3am and drove me up to this viewing site. We photographed the changing scene and stayed until daybreak. This image shows the first light in the sky before dawn, around 6am.

maunaloa
Mauna Loa erupting on December 4, 2022, seen from Old Saddle Road, Hawaii.