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Mauna Loa (Volcanoes National Park), Hawaii (Big Island)

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Mauna Loa Current Weather Conditions & Forecast
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National Weather Service:

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Hilo (Mauna Loa) Current Weather Conditions & Forecast
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National Weather Service:

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Mauna Loa Detailed Weather Conditions
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Mauna Loa Cams
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Looking North with Mauna Kea in the background






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Looking east from the High tower


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Looking southwest with the NDSC  building in the foreground and HAO  in the upper back.


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 The strip blocks out the sun's image. This image is compliments from AES Canada.


Sun deck of the NDSC building facing north west. 


Looking to the north west


Looking at gate and public parking

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Panorama Cam Links
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Hawaiian Volcano Observatory:

Panorama of Pu`u `O`o Vent, Kilauea
Mauna Loa Summit
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The Following Information
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ParkVision - Mauna Loa (Volcanoes National Park):


Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of two national parks in America's 50th state, and one of a number of national parks dedicated to volcanism and its effects. Located about 90 miles from Hilo on the southern section of the big island of Hawaii, the park contains 229,177 acres and features two active volcanoes, volcanic craters and caldera, rain forests, wildlife including rare birds, and lush vegetation, some of which is endemic to the islands.

The park also provides access to two active volcanoes and many volcanic features as well as over 150 miles of trails, some of which run through the caldera.


Park History

Hawaii, along with the rest of the Hawaiian islands, was formed by the accumulation of lava erupting initially from a weak point or "hot spot" on the ocean floor. The plate on which the islands rest has moved to the northwest across this hot point at a rate of about 4 inches a year, and so new volcanoes and new islands have been created in a line as it moves. Thus, the Hawaiian islands to the northwest are older with less recently active volcanoes. Hawaii, home of this national park, is the youngest, and the two volcanoes in the national park--Mauna Loa and Kilauea--are still active. An even younger volcano which is now growing beneath the sea, Loihi, was recently discovered twenty miles to the southeast of the coast Hawaii. It is estimated that Loihi will emerge from the ocean in another 10,000 years.

Human beings first reached the Hawaiian Islands after long voyages across the Pacific in double hulled canoes from the Marquesas Islands between 300 and 400 AD. When these people arrived the islands were absolutely untouched by humans. Around the year 1200 a new wave of Polynesian immigration occurred from Tahiti. The new immigrants, taller and more powerful than the existing inhabitants, overwhelmed those already on the islands and set the tempo for remaining cultural evolution.

The first people who weren't native Hawaiians to see the Kilauea Volcano were William Ellis and Asa Thurston in 1823. Following their reports many explorers and missionaries visited the volcanoes. Many were thrilled the awesome spectacle of the volcanoes. Rigorous observation and scientific study of the volcano began in 1912 when Dr. T. A. Jagger established the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

By the early 1900's many visitors to the area began to suggest that the volcanic wonders should be protected in the same way as those in Yellowstone country. Pressure to create a national park was begun by Lorrin Thurston, publisher of a Honolulu newspaper. He was joined by Thomas Jagger, Director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in 1912. By 1916, these efforts were successful as congress passed a bill creating the national park. President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill creating America's 12th national park on August 1, 1916. The original park contained primarily the area around the summit of the volcanoes, including Haleakala on the island of Maui. Additional sections were added to the park over the years, and the section on Maui was split into a separate park--Haleakala National Park--in 1961.


Kilauea Volcano

The big island of Hawaii has 5 volcanoes--Mauna Kea (last active about 4,000 years ago), Kohala, Hualalai (last active in 1801), Mauna Loa, and Kilauea. For visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea is the star because it's among the most active of the world's volcanoes, and because it is safe to approach because its eruptions are not normally explosive or dangerous.


The name Kilauea means something like "spreading, much spewing", and with the persistent activity of the volcano it's easy to see why. Kilauea itself reaches an altitude of 4,078 feet, and the caldera of the volcano is about 3 miles long and 2 miles wide.

A view of part of the caldera can be seen below. As can be seen in this picture, there is frequently cloud cover and rain on the mountains.

Kilauea is the youngest of the volcanoes on the big island of Hawaii, having been formed over the past 100,000 years. Its caldera is surrounded by an 11 mile road which provides easy access to the fantastic sights it contains. Because of the nature of the eruptions at Kilauea it is relatively safe to witness them, and so it has provided some of the most outstanding opportunities to witness the great spectacle.


Signs of past volcanic activity are evident everywhere at Kilauea. Much of the area in the caldera is covered by lava, ash, and pumice from past eruptions. On the right, a lava wash along a section of the southwest rift zone is evident. A rift zone is an area of weakness in the side of the volcano along which underground cracks may form.


More evidence of volcanic activity can be seen below.


The rim of the crater is at an altitude of about 4000 feet. The crater itself has changed a great deal in the past hundred years. In 1823, when it was first observed by non-native Hawaiians, it was about twice as deep as it is today, and it contained a real lake of red hot lava. Change is continuous; an earthquake on November 16, 1983, cause a portion of the rim not far from Volcano House to collapse.

At this altitude the crater is often covered by clouds or fog which sweep across the park.

Within the caldera the most recent volcanic activity occurs at Halemaumau Crater, seen in the upper portion of the picture below. It is Kilauea's primary vent and site of many spectacular eruptions in historical times.

Halemaumau is a pit crater within the summit caldera of Kialauea. It was formed by vertical collapse of the area when lava was vented. A closer view of the Halemaumau Crater can be seen below.

The name Halemaumau means "house of everlasting fire." Steam can be seen constantly rising from the crater which is currently 3000 feet across and about 250 feet deep. It's changed a great deal in historical times; after the 1924 eruption the crater was almost 1200 feet deep. From 1823 to 1924 it had a continuously active lava lake, one of the area's primary attractions for visitors.


The last great eruption of Kilauea from Halemaumau was in 1924, when clouds of dust rose 20,000 feet into the air and large blocks of rock were blown out of the crater. Violent lightning storms accompanied the eruption along with rains of mud. The walls of the crater collapsed, increasing the diameter from about 1400 feet to about 3000 feet.

A closer view of the bottom of the crater can be seen blow. "Lava marks" on the side of the crater, like rings in a bathtub, reveal levels which the lake of lava within the crater has reached in the past. The floor is currently covered with lava from the 1974 eruption.

To native Hawaiians this crater is the home of Pélé, goddess of the volcano. In the past, and all the way to the present, Hawaiians would come to the precipice of the crater and leaving offerings of flowers and food to appease the mighty goddess.


Kilauea Iki

Another site of a spectacular volcanic eruption in the past is the Kilauea Iki crater, shown below, just to the side of the Kilauea caldera. Meaning "little Kilauea", this crater was the site of a impressive eruption in 1969.

The 1959 eruption of Kilauea Iki was spectacular, with fountains of lava shooting 1900 feet into the sky. A pool of lava 300 feet deep formed in the crater. In the picture below the Kilauea Iki can be seen with the mighty volcano Mauna Loa in the background.

The surface of the bottom of the crater is solid now, although the crater contained a lake of molten lava in 1959. In 1980, molten lava could still be found about 230 feet below the solid surface, but by 1988 no lava could be found by drilling. A trail lead across the solidified lava on the floor of the crater, providing visitors with a closeup look at the effects of volcanism.

The eastern edge of the Kilauea Iki Crater is an outstanding sight to watch the sun go down at the end of the day.

Mauna Loa

Although it is less visited than Kiluauea which lies on its flank because it is higher and less accessible, the major volcano in the park and, indeed, the Hawaiian islands, is Mauna Loa. Mauna Loa is a type of volcano known as a shield volcano. The bulk of the mountain is built up as lava is slowly ejected and runs down the side, creating a mountain which resembles a warrior's shield. In the case of Mauna Loa this has occurred over a period of approximately one half million years. The shape of Mauna Loa, which means "long mountain", is clearly visible in the distance below, with Kilauea in the foreground. The slopes of the mountain are never steeper than 12 degrees, disguising its impressive height.

The bulk and height of the mountain are awesome. It reaches an altitude of 13,677 feet above sea level, but rises an additional 18,000 feet above its base at the bottom of the sea. The combination makes it the world's largest mountain, rising higher above its base even than Mt. Everest. With a volume of 10,000 cubic miles, Mauna Loa is the world's most massive single mountain, approximately 18 times as bulky as Mt. Shasta in California. It accounts for about 2000 square miles of island surface.

Mauna Loa is still very much active, although not as active as its sibling Kilauea. It erupted most recently in 1984, when a 3 week eruption sent a flow of lava almost to Hilo. The summit, like Kilauea, has a crater 3 miles long, a mile wide, and 600 feet deep, called Mokuaweoweo. It's so high that, even though Hawaii isn't really known for cold weather, snow may often be found on the summit. as temperatures fall into the twenties.


Chain of Craters Road

One of the most interesting sections of the park is the road which leads from the Kilauea Rim Road down to the south coast of the island. This road, known as the Chain of Craters Road, leads from the road around the Kilauea caldera down along the East Rift Zone to the sea. The road was originally constructed in 1935.

Among the craters in the "chain" are Lua Manu, a small pit crater seen on the left below. This crater was partially filled by lava from the 1974 eruption.

The Puhimau crater is an oval pit crater. The crater is 600 feet by 400 feet and about 500 feet deep, formed by collapse after an eruption.


Another crater along the road is Hi'iacka. Here lava which formed a pond in this crater in a 1973 flow can be observed.

Pauahi Crater is one of the more impressive features along the Chain of Craters Road. This depression is 2000 feet long and about 300 feet deep. In both 1973 and 1979 lava from nearby eruptions drained into this crater. In 1979 Pauahi Crater itself erupted for a single day.

Beyond the area with the craters shown above the Chain of Craters Road leads down to a plain by the sea. This plain is covered with lava from a number of flows in the past. The upper area and the plains can be seen in the picture below, with some plant life which has begun to reclaim surface of the lava.

In other areas more recent flows have left a thick layer of lava on the land. There have been many eruptions of Mauna Loa and Kilauea, and the high temperature and high silicon content of the lava makes it very fluid. Hawaiian lava has been known to flow as quickly as 35 miles per hour, although it usually moves somewhat more slowly.

The Chain of Crater Road itself (right) runs though the older flows.


However, the road itself has been covered by lava from flows from the Puu O'o eruption during the period 1986 to 1991, as can be seen below. Eight miles of this road have been covered with lava, much of it from the Kupaianaha vent. A nature trail was covered and in 1989 the Wahaula Visitor Center on the south coast was closed.


Kalapana Coast

The southern section of the park runs along the south coast of Hawaii and is quite beautiful. The black of the lava flows contrasts with the blues of the sky and the ocean, as can be seen below in a view of the Kalapana Coast from the Chain of Craters Road, looking west.

Another view of the ocean can be seen at left below. In other places the recent lava flows run all the way to the cliffs above the sea, as can be seen on the right.


This view shows the volcanic cliffs and the sea. The lava flows down from vents on the side of Kilauea into the sea, enlarging the island of Hawaii in the process and leaving these spectacular cliffs which reach a height of about 60 feet above the sea.

In one place the erosive action of the waves has created the Holei Sea Arch, shown below. It is irregularities in the hardness of the lava flow which result in irregular erosion by the waves. The cliff is about 90 feet above the sea here.

Volcanic Features

As befits a national park on an island created by volcanism, evidences of volcanic activity are everywhere. Most obvious are the extensive deposits of lava from the many eruptions. There are two basic types of lava which can be found in the park, known as pahoehoe and a'a. Pahoehoe lava, which appears very smooth or sometimes "ropy", is formed by very fluid, fast-flowing lava before it cools. A'a lava, on the other hand, is quite rough or chunky and is formed by viscous, slowly flowing lava.

One such deposit, seen below lying across an old section of the Chain of Craters Road, illustrates the two types of lava which exist in the park.

One additional bit of evidence of the fact that Kilauea and Mauna Loa are still very much active is the Sulfur Banks which are located not far from Volcano House. Here, volcanic gas composed of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide derived from magma within the mountain seeps to the surface.

The 1959 eruption of Kilauea Iki, described in greater detail above, has also left testaments to the power of the volcano. Below is the "devastated area" near the crater which is now covered by extensive deposits of pumice. More pictures of this unusual area can be seen below.

Extensive deposits of cinder and lava can be found in the area of Mauna Ulu near the Chain of Craters road.



One of the great attractions of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is its extensive trail system. These trails are varied in terms of difficulty as well as the terrain they traverse, but they provide access to volcanic activity as well as wildlife and lush vegetation.

In the western section of the park is the Kau Desert Trail. This 3.5 mile trail runs through desert vegetation and extensive deposits of lava from eruptions. This area of the park is much drier than the eastern section because of the "rain shadow" effects of the volcano; a much smaller amount of rain falls in this area. The rain which does fall is "acid rain" because of the effects of the volcanic fumes to the east.


The Devastation Trail is a short (1/2 mile), paved nature trail through the area which was devastated by the Kilauea Iki eruption in 1959. The trail provides ample evidence for the tremendous power of volcanism, with extensive deposits of pumice and few living things.

In the picture below a section of the trail can be seen with the mighty Mauna Loa in the background.

This area was previously a forest which was devastated by cinders falling from the 1959 Kilauea Iki eruption. The area was covered with deposits of thick, hot pumice. Another section of the area around the Devastation Trail can be seen below.

The "skeletons" or snags of the ohi'a trees which once grew here can still be observed. However, in some areas near the periphery of the area life has made inroads. All of the plants which exist now have grown since the 1959 eruption.

Pumice, which dominates this area, is the product of gas and molten glass which was chilled so rapidly that bubbles didn't have time to coalesce and burst. In many areas near the Kilauea Iki Crater plants have invaded the deposits of pumice extensively in the almost forty years since the eruption.

Another interesting trail leads to the Thurston Lava Tubes. Lava tubes are formed when the surface of a lava flow cools while the lava inside remains in a molten state, flowing downhill until the eruption ceases, leaving a hollow tube behind.

The Lava Tubes Trail runs though the lush Fern Jungle and into the cave itself. This tube was discovered in 1913 by newspaper publisher and conservationist Lorris Thurston. Thurston himself used to lead tours thorough the cave he had discovered. A section of the trail running through the jungle just before it enters the tube is shown below.


Plants and Animals

In addition to the many volcanic features of the park the lush and unusual vegetation is interesting as well. Many of the plants and animals in the park and on the islands exist only here because of Hawaii's isolation. Hawaii is one of the most isolated places on earth, more than 2400 miles away from the closest continent.

The vegetation in the eastern section of the park is particularly noteworthy. This is the wettest section of the park, where moisture-laden trade winds dump rain on the east side of the mountain.

The forested areas of the park contain a number of different types of ferns, including the giant tree ferns which are pictured here. These ferns--hapu'u--may reach 40 feet in height and have fronds up to 25 feet in length.


Smaller ferns can also be found peeking up from cracks and crevices in the extensive volcanic deposits.

Among the native flowering plants found in the park, 98% grow only in the sate of Hawaii.

The most common flowers are the red blossoms which are found on the ohia lehua tree. This tree is the most common in the park. This tree is the first to appear on new lava flows and is also found in abundance in the moist rain forests. The mature tree may range in height from 10 to 20 or 30 feet in drier area to 60 or 80 feet in the rain forests. Its hard wood was used by native Hawaiians to make spears, tools, and other objects.

It's quite remarkable to see the small bits of vegetative life which take hold in the vastness of the fields of lava. After lava cools, the first plants to colonize the ground are lichens, mosses, and ferns, a few of which can be seen in the process of colonization below. These plants may appear within a few months after the lava cools.

Lava contains most of the nutrients necessary to support life. All plant life needs is abundant rainfall and cracks for seeds or spores to lodge in and begin to grow. A'a lava provides more cracks and is thus colonized faster.

The ferns and vines are set off against the glistening surface of the pahoehoe lava.

One animal which is connected to Hawaii and the national park is the state's native bird, the néné, or Hawaiian goose. Several of these birds can be seen standing along the Chain of Craters Road, below.

Many of the plants and animals in Hawaii evolved from a few originals which somehow found there way to the isolated islands. The néné is probably descended from some wayward Canada geese which found there way to the island. Living primarily on sparsely populated land often covered by flows of lava, rather than in watery areas, the néné has largely lost its webbed feet, as can be seen below.

These birds were once very abundant, numbering in the tens of thousands. As with noteworthy animals in many national parks the néné was once near extinction. However, by the 1940's the birds were extinct on Maui and there were only about 30 birds on the Big Island.

As can be seen in the photograph below many of these birds are tagged and followed in an effort to help them survive. The breeding and release programs are responsible for the recovery and the current existence of the Hawaiian goose. Approximately 100 of the birds now live in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The biggest current threat to their survival are automobiles, as a number of birds are run over each year. This accounts for the frequent "Néné Crossing" signs which can be seen along the roads of the park.


Volcano House

The hotel along the rim of the Kilauea Caldera is one of the famous lodges of the national park system. It provides a panoramic view of both the Kilauea caldera and Mauna Loa.

In 1865 the hotel was little more than an unfurnished 14 by 20 foot grass hut. In 1866 Julius Richardson built a replacement, a frame building constructed of bamboo and thatch with a furnished parlor and two separate sleeping rooms, which was much appreciated by hard visitors who made the arduous journey to the volcano. A larger hotel was built in 1891. The hotel went through economic ups and downs, but was particularly successful when Kilauea was active.

After a fire consumed the existing hotel, the current Volcano House was built in 1941 on the original location of the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, now currently located across the rim from the hotel.

Volcano House has hosted visitors from all over the world, numbering among its guests Mark Twain, Louis Pasteur, and Queen Lileokalani among its famous visitors.


Information about Haleakal National Park has been drawn from personal experience, maps, interpretive material, brochures, and other data available in the park itself, and a number of other sources, including:

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