Scientists are hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself. Conditions in south Puna are strikingly similar to an eruption in the same area more than 60 years ago.
Film footage obtained from Lyman Museum in Hilo documents the eruption in South Puna in 1955. Swarms of small earthquakes also happened before lava broke the surface.
“The fissures opened up in about the same area where currently there is some concern because of the ground cracking and the shallow earthquakes,” said Scott Rowland, University of Hawaii Geology professor.
The eruption lasted nearly three months and destroyed roads and property along the lava’s path.
“Certainly if it were to happen today in the same place there are many more homes and structures in danger,” Rowland said.
He adds that to this day, it’s still not clear what causes lava to erupt. Magma underground can move along the rift zone. But why it stops and rises to the surface is still a mystery.
“Once it starts happening you say aha the magma stopped moving and it’s starting to erupt. But why it happened there and not someplace else, I think is something we can’t really answer,” Rowland said.
Which is why emergency officials are asking residents in the Lower Puna area to stay alert for any updates, and be ready to evacuate. Rowland says the earthquakes are caused by magma pushing the ground underneath.
Scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory are gathering as much information as possible recording the earthquakes, to determine how far down they are.
“By knowing how deep those earthquakes are much more precisely, you get a much better sense for how deep the magma is,” said Rowland.
Rowland says the recent earthquakes are a few hundred feet deep, considered pretty shallow. Residents report that they’re actually able to hear the earthquakes.