Mauna Loa is the largest active volcano on the planet. Meaning "long mountain" in Hawaiian, it is the quintessential shield volcano in its shape— signified by broad, rounded slopes. The volcano makes up roughly 51% of Hawaiʻi Island and stands 13,678 feet (4,170 m) above sea level. More impressive, however, it rises an astonishing 30,000 feet (9,144 m) from the bottom of the sea, a greater height than Mount Everest. The ocean floor actually bends under the weight of this mammoth mountain.
Eruptions of Mauna Loa have historically been characterized by high volume flows that produce lava capable of travelling long distances, contributing to its shape. Scientists believe that 90 percent of the volcano's surface has been covered with flows that erupted within the past 4,000 years.
Mauna Loa is comprised of a main summit caldera called Moku‘āweoweo and two rift zones to the northeast and southwest. The two rift zones are historically very active, sending out flows toward the city of Hilo in 1984 and South Kona in 1950 respectively. A series of 33 radial vents also extend to the northwest. Eruptions of Mauna Loa most often will begin in the summit caldera and then later migrate to a rift zone.
Mauna Loa has erupted 33 times since 1843— averaging once every five years. Over a longer period of time, the past 3,000 years, its estimated to have erupted once every six years. We are currently in the volcano's longest quiet period since written records have been kept, as it has not erupted since 1984.
Notable Eruptions of Mauna Loa
1868 Eruption of Mauna Loa
One of the deadliest disasters in Hawaiian history
1880-1881 Eruption of Mauna Loa
An eruption that threatened the city of Hilo and saw the first known attempts at lava diversion
1950 Eruption of Mauna Loa
With blazing speed, Mauna Loa sent lava flows to the sea through what is now the Kahuku Unit of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park
Last updated: November 25, 2020