How well do you know the volcanoes in your backyard?

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We often hear the term "IQ" (intelligence quotient)—but how would you rate your "VAQ" (volcano awareness quotient)? In other words, how well do you know the volcanoes in your backyard?

Mauna Loa: How Well Do You Know the Volcano in Your Backyard?...

Lava erupts from a fissure on Mauna Loa's northeast rift zone on March 26, 1984. At an elevation of 9,500 feet, this fissure was about 12 miles east of the original vent that opened in Moku‘āweoweo, Mauna Loa's summit caldera, 36 hours earlier.

(Public domain.)

Let's begin with a short quiz. No need to flash back to high school and those feelings of panic—sweaty palms and racing heart rate—that set in when your teacher announced a pop quiz on the homework you forgot to do. This quiz won't be scored by anyone other than you.

Here are five questions to test your VAQ: How many active volcanoes are in the State of Hawaii? What is the most abundant gas emitted by Kīlauea and other Hawaiian volcanoes? What is the longest known Kīlauea eruption? During the past 200 years, how many times have Mauna Loa lava flows reached the ocean? How many earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater have occurred on Hawai`i Island since 1900?

The answers will be revealed later in this article. First, let us tell you about an upcoming and unparalleled opportunity to learn more about Hawaiian volcanoes—and increase your VAQ.

As we usher in the New Year, Mayor Billy Kenoi will issue a Proclamation from the County of Hawai`i, designating January 2010 as "Volcano Awareness Month." Throughout the month, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), in cooperation with Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, Hawai`i County Civil Defense, and the University of Hawai`i at Hilo, will sponsor various events to promote the importance of understanding and respecting the volcanoes on which we live.

Volcano Awareness Month kicks off on Saturday, January 2, at 10:00 a.m., with an opening event on the Jaggar Museum overlook in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. The public is invited to attend.

Mayor Kenoi has been invited to read the Proclamation, and featured speakers will include "Thomas A. Jaggar," HVO's founder and first Director (portrayed by Peter Charlot), and Jim Kauahikaua, HVO's current Scientist-in-Charge. Cindy Orlando, Superintendent of Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park; Quince Mento, Administrator of Hawai`i County Civil Defense; and other special guests will also address volcano awareness.

This opening is just the first of a month-long series of events focusing on Hawaiian volcanoes. They include guided hikes, evening talks, teacher workshops and other extraordinary programs, and in order to reach a wide audience, are scheduled on weekdays, as well as weekends. Many of the programs and activities will be held in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, but some will also take place in Hilo and in Kona.

A calendar and descriptions of all Volcano Awareness Month events are provided on HVO's Web site.

HVO selected January 2010 as Volcano Awareness Month, largely because January 3, 2010, marks the 27th anniversary of Kīlauea's ongoing east rift zone eruption. It will also be 20 years since Kalapana was buried beneath lava and 50 years since Kapoho was inundated by fast-moving lava flows. The destruction of these two communities is a sobering reminder of why it's important to understand how Hawai`i's volcanoes work.

Now, back to the quiz. The answers, in order of the questions asked, are as follows. There are six active volcanoes (defined as erupting in the past 10,000 years) in the State of Hawaii. Water vapor is the most abundant gas released by Hawaiian volcanoes, followed by carbon dioxide (CO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2). The `Aila`au eruption, which lasted about 60 years from around 1410 to 1470, is Kīlauea's longest known eruption. Eight Mauna Loa lava flows, from eruptions in 1859, 1868, 1887, 1919, 1926, and 1950, have reached the ocean in the last 200 years. Since 1900, there have been 13 magnitude-6 or greater earthquakes—in 1929, 1941, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1954, 1962, 1973, 1975, 1983, 1989, and 2006.

Even if you aced the quiz—and especially if you did not—we encourage you to participate in Volcano Awareness Month events to learn more about Hawai`i's volcanoes. Don't be caught with a low "volcano awareness quotient" if the volcano in your backyard erupts!


Volcano Activity Update

Lava continues to erupt from the TEB vent on Kīlauea's east rift zone and flow through tubes to the ocean at two locations—Waikupanaha and west Waikupanaha. Small surface flows have been sporadically active on the coastal plain for the last several weeks. In the past week, these surface flows were scattered mostly over a broad area just inland from the shoreline more than 1 km to the west of the Hawai`i County lava viewing trail.

Glow above the vent at Kīlauea's summit has been visible at night from the Jaggar Museum. Incandescent openings, sometimes yielding bursts of spatter, were visible on the floor of the vent cavity throughout the week, as recorded by the Webcam perched on the rim of Halema`uma`u Crater. Volcanic gas emissions remain elevated, resulting in high concentrations of sulfur dioxide downwind.

No earthquakes beneath Hawai`i Island were reported felt for the second week.

Visit our Web site for detailed Kīlauea and Mauna Loa activity updates, recent volcano photos, recent earthquakes, and more; call (808) 967-8862 for a Kīlauea activity summary; email questions to