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NOAA Satellites See Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Volcano Eruption

December 6, 2022

On Nov. 28, 2022, the world’s largest active volcano began erupting for the first time since 1984. Mauna Loa, located on Hawaii’s Big Island, began spewing ash and debris from its summit around 11:30 p.m. local time after a series of earthquakes. Lava was ejected to heights of up to 148 feet on Nov. 29. 

NOAA satellites monitored the ongoing eruption, lava flow, ash plume, and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions. GOES-17 (GOES West) provided one-minute imagery to help NOAA’sNational Weather Service Pacific Region monitor the evolution of the eruption and volcanic plumes in real-time. GOES-18, still undergoing post-launch testing, began collecting 30-second imagery of the eruption on Nov. 30. This rapid-update imagery allowed forecasters to observe the hottest areas of the lava field as well as the constant emission of ash and vapor.

NOAA-20 flew over Hawaii at 1:34 a.m. HST on Nov. 28, and provided ultra-high-resolution imagery of the eruption. The satellite’s Day-Night Band captured light from the eruption scattered by clouds.

Both the geostationary GOES-17 and GOES-18 satellites and the polar-orbiting NOAA-20 and Suomi NPP satellites monitored emissions of hazardous SO2 from the eruption. As SO2 is released, it reacts with oxygen, sunlight, moisture, and other gasses and particles in the atmosphere. The particles scatter sunlight and cause a visible haze, known as vog (volcanic air pollution, from “volcanic smog”). Vog can cause airborne health hazards and damage agricultural crops and other plants.  

The Northeast Rift Zone eruption of Mauna Loa continues, with an active fissure feeding lava flow downslope on Dec. 6. Sulfur dioxide emission rates of approximately 120,000 metric tons per day were measured on Dec. 4.

Mauna Loa has erupted 33 times since 1893, making it the world’s most active volcano, according to the United States Geological Survey.

NOAA satellites are crucial for detecting volcanic activity, alerting those in harm’s way of an eruption, and monitoring the hazards associated with volcanic eruptions.