The lava flows and volcanic landscapes along Mamalahoa and Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highways, from Ka‘u to North Kona, will be the focus of a free public talk offered by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, in the NELHA Gateway Visitor Center in Kona.
HVO Scientist-in-Charge Jim Kauahikaua and geologist Janet Babb will recount the volcanic history, stories and impacts of volcanic features flanking Highways 11 and 190 in a virtual road trip presented in the center at 73-4460 Queen Kaahumanu Highway, No. 125, located just south of Kona International Airport.
Kauahikaua will talk about lava flows erupted from Mauna Loa and Hualalai in the 1800s, beginning with the 1868 Mauna Loa flow in Ka‘u.
“This flow has an interesting history because the eruption was accompanied by a devastating earthquake, with an estimated magnitude of 7.9, and deadly tsunami in Ka‘u,” he said.
Continuing from the Ka‘u District to North Kona, he will also tell about the destruction caused by lava flows erupted from Hualalai in pre-contact years to the early 19th century. According to Kauahikaua, these remarkable flows destroyed Hawaiian villages and fish ponds and changed the West Hawaii coastline.
Babb will recount stories from Mauna Loa eruptions in the 1900s, one of which sent lava flows to the sea in a surprisingly short period of time.
“In 1950, a fissure high on Mauna Loa’s Southwest Rift Zone erupted a fast-moving ‘a‘a lava flow that crossed the main highway within three hours,” she said.
Soon after, another lava flow inundated the village of Pahoehoe, where it destroyed about two dozen structures before reaching the ocean.
The virtual road trip presented by Kauahikaua and Babb will include photographs and sketches from the 1800s and 1900s and film from the Mauna Loa 1950 eruption, as well as images of how the flows and volcanic landscape appear today.
Kauahikaua and Babb are presenting their talk to remind people Mauna Loa and Hualalai are active volcanoes that will erupt again.
“Because past volcanic activity is an indication of what could happen in the future, it’s important for Hawaii residents to be aware of the potential hazards of these volcanoes,” Kauahikaua added.
According to Babb, she and Kauahikaua plan to share, in a fun and interesting way, stories of the lava flows Hawaii residents and visitors see each time they drive between Ka‘u and North Kona.
“If you’ve ever wondered about the prominent features in this volcanic landscape, our virtual road trip is for you,” she said. “Through it, you’ll discover the origin of the flows — when and where they were erupted — and their impacts on the island.”
This talk is one of many programs offered by HVO during Hawaii Island’s fifth-annual Volcano Awareness Month in January.