Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Credit: Jochen Scheffl

Mauna Loa volcano eruption

27 November-7 December 2022

Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Credit: Jochen Scheffl
Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Credit: Jochen Scheffl

An eruption at Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island began on 27 November, the first in 34 years.

Last Updated

19 December 2022

Published on

14 December 2022

By Anu-Maija Sundström, Julia Wagemann, Sabrina Szeto and Federico Fierli

Mauna Loa is the world’s largest active volcano, and it is located on the south-central part of Hawaii’s Big Island. On 27 November, the volcano began erupting for the first time since 1984.

In volcanic eruptions, large amounts of gases, ash, and other aerosol particles are emitted in the atmosphere. One of the major emitted species is sulfur dioxide (SO2), which is a reactive gas and an important indicator of volcanic activity.

SO2 emissions from volcanic eruptions are clearly visible from satellite observations. One of the first satellite observations of the Mauna Loa SO2 plume was captured by the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment-2 instrument (GOME-2) onboard the Metop-B and Metop-C satellites on 28 November (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Merged GOME-2 observations from Metop-B & C show an extensive SO2 plume from the volcanic eruption at Mauna Loa on 27 November. The plume transport is animated for the period 28 November to 1 December. GOME-2 SO2 observations provided by AC SAF

The plume of SO2 with more than 10DU was emitted to the troposphere with an estimated plume height of about 6km in the immediate vicinity of the volcano (Figure 2).

IASI plume height
Figure 2: The Metop-C IASI image on 28 November shows the height of the SO2 plume at about 6km in the immediate vicinity of the volcano (left). On 1 December, over the USA, the plume height was estimated to be at about 8-15km (right). The IASI SO2 plume height data is provided by ULB/ LATMOS

The SO2 plume was transported eastwards over the United States, then the Atlantic, up to the west coast of Africa, reaching plume heights of about 8-15km. Overall, SO2 emissions were being transported more than 12,000km from their origin.

Figure 3: On 3 December, the SO2 plume from the Mauna Loa eruption was transported over the USA, the Atlantic up to the African west coast. The figure represents merged GOME-2 total

Figure 3 shows GOME-2 observations on 3 December, when elevated SO2 concentrations from Mauna Loa, were visible being transported to the west coast of Africa.

On 7 December the volcanic SO2 plume was visible in merged GOME-2 observations from Metop-B and Metop-C
Figure 4: On 7 December the volcanic SO2 plume was visible in merged GOME-2 observations from Metop-B & C. More recently the plume has been transported more towards the north

Figure 4 shows emissions on 7 December, when the direction of the transport changed more towards the north. The plume remained visible in satellite observations until 12 December.


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