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The CBS News' headline Two volcanoes erupt simultaneously in Hawaii for first time in decades: "A very sacred event that we are watching" suggests that simultaneous eruptions from these two volcanoes have happened at least once before in recent times, which suggests (to me at least) that this is not a random coincidence.

Dual eruptions haven't been seen since 1984.

Question: Is there a causal relationship between the simultaneous eruptions of Mauna Loa and Kīlauea? Does one cause the other or perhaps a third phenomenon cause both?

enter image description here Kīlauea (left) and Mauna Loa (right) erupting simultaneously on November 28, 2022, view from Kūpinaʻi Pali. NPS Photo/J.Ibasan, public domain.

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    $\begingroup$ On a related note, here's a fresh popular-science piece on Mauna Loa's lava source from a geophysicist: theconversation.com/… $\endgroup$ Dec 1, 2022 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Jean-Marie Prival I guess the picture is taken in november 28, not december 28 $\endgroup$
    – user27958
    Dec 2, 2022 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ Kilauea is a pimple on the side of Mauna Loa. They are essentially the same volcano but different calderas. Mauna Loa is the "parent". $\endgroup$
    – f.thorpe
    Nov 21, 2023 at 14:50

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An article on this topic has recently been published: Elastic interaction between Mauna Loa and Kīlauea evidenced by independent component analysis (Przeor et al., 2022). It begins:

The interaction processes between the two most active Hawaiian volcanoes are still controversial, and despite multiple studies carried out over more than a century, an unambiguous model has yet to be identified.

Later, the two following paragraphs review some of those studies:

The interaction between the two most active volcanoes of Hawai‘i Island has been discussed for over 100 years11,12,26. Rhodes and Hart27 confirm that the chemical composition of lavas at Kīlauea and Mauna Loa are different, indicating the magmatic feeding systems are independent (at least at the crustal level). However, geophysical studies seem to indicate the opposite: Klein11 first noticed the anticorrelation between the two volcanoes, emphasising that an increase in activity at Kīlauea often corresponds to a decrease in Mauna Loa dynamism. Miklius and Cervelli12 captured the opposite behaviour in the ground deformation patterns of the volcanoes: at the beginning of the high-volume effusive episode in Kīlauea, inflation of Mauna Loa was observed (May 2002). Shirzaei et al.28 studied the coupling behaviour of both volcanoes between 2003 and 2008. The authors postulate that the causative source of the interaction between the two volcanoes is related to deep-seated mantle surges. Despite being the subject of many studies, the nature and the mechanism of the interaction between the feeding systems of the two volcanoes and their level of interconnection are still contentious and remain unclear.

Many authors have already suggested possible connections between Mauna Loa and Kīlauea. Miklius and Cervelli12 proposed a crustal-level interaction between them: pulses of magma in the plumbing system of Mauna Loa may cause pressure variations in the Kīlauea shallow magma system. Gonnermann et al.13 explained observed related ground deformation patterns by considering a pore-pressure diffusion within a thin accumulation layer in the asthenosphere. Since the magma composition at Kīlauea is isotopically distinct from Mauna Loa27, Gonnermann et al.13 suggested the interconnection between Mauna Loa and Kīlauea must be explained by the transfer of stress by pore-pressure variations. Shirzaei et al.28 explain the interconnection between the Mauna Loa magma chamber and the Kīlauea rift zone through pore pressure diffusion in an asthenospheric magma supply system.

This new study, based on deformation patterns of both Mauna Loa and Kīlauea, concludes:

We highlight that the connection between Mauna Loa and Kīlauea occurs at shallow depths in the first few kilometers of the crust, through a stress transfer mechanism. [...] This interconnection is created by the Mauna Loa reservoir perturbing the Kīlauea shallowest source. Conversely, the sources below the Kīlauea do not effectively influence the Mauna Loa reservoir. In practice, the inflation of Mauna Loa makes the stress field in the surroundings of Kīlauea less favourable for the ascent of magma into its shallow reservoir.

In summary, according to this new study:

  • There is a "connection" between the two volcanoes (or rather between their plumbing systems), but this connection works in one way only$-$Mauna Loa has an influence on Kīlauea, but the opposite is not true.
  • This is not a physical connection of the plumbing systems (as in shared pipes), but rather a transfer of stress through the crust.
  • This connection is actually an anticorrelation: when there is an overpressure in Mauna Loa magma reservoir (hence inflation of the volcano), there is a decrease in stress in Kīlauea's shallower reservoir.
  • But! Kīlauea has another, deeper reservoir which seems to be unaffected by this connection. Note that this reservoir is also connected to Kīlauea rift zones, so its magma can erupt without going through the upper reservoir.

All in all, I'd say that each volcano works pretty much on its own, independently, or, to answer your question directly, that there is no causal relationship between the simultaneous eruptions of Mauna Loa and Kīlauea. But we still don't know for sure. Despite being very well studied for more than a century, Kīlauea still holds some mysteries! The geometry of its plumbing system is not so well defined yet. The USGS carried out an Airborne Electromagnetic and Magnetic (AEM) survey this summer precisely to better constrain it, so we might have some answers soon!

enter image description here Telephoto image of the Airborne Electromagnetic and Magnetic (AEM) survey being flown over Kīlauea caldera on July 28, 2022. The South Sulphur Bank area is visible in the background of the image as a light-colored deposits on the left side. NPS Photo/J.Wei, public domain.


Update. Both eruptions have now ended, at about the same time. Here is a USGS statement about this situation:

Mauna Loa and Kīlauea have separate magmatic systems and are not connected at a shallow level. But it remains possible that the volcanoes can influence one another through stresses associated with their eruptions—essentially, when one volcano expands or contracts, it can put pressure on (or take pressure off!) the other volcano. [...] Removal of magma from Mauna Loa’s reservoir by the recent eruption may have allowed Kīlauea to relax. Because Kīlauea’s eruption was occurring at such a low rate, it could have been more susceptible to the small changes in stress that were caused by Mauna Loa’s eruption. However, it is also possible that the change in Kīlauea’s eruptive behavior is a coincidence—with such low levels of activity at Kīlauea prior to Mauna Loa’s eruption, it is difficult to be certain. And of course this may only represent a temporary pause in Kīlauea’s activity.


Update #2. Two new studies have been published on the subject of "connected" volcanoes (although not in Hawaii). Kiryukhin et al. (2023) describes how Bezymianny eruptions are actually fed by nearby Klyuchevskoy magma chamber. Reddin et al. (2023) shows that six (!) volcanoes from the Galápagos Islands are connected through interconnected magmatic systems.

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    $\begingroup$ What an amazing answer, and what a fascinating situation it describes; thanks! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Dec 1, 2022 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for accepting my answer! :) Here is yet another recent article imaging a sill complex that connects both volcanoes: doi.org/10.1126/science.ade5755 $\endgroup$ Feb 3, 2023 at 8:34
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    $\begingroup$ I've recently came upon two articles on the subject of "connected" volcanoes (although not in Hawaii). The first describes how Bezymianny eruptions are actually fed by nearby Klyuchevskoy magma chamber, the second shows that six volcanoes from the Galápagos Islands are connected through interconnected magmatic systems. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2023 at 8:18
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    $\begingroup$ Cool! You might consider moving your comment into the bottom of your post with an "update:" heading. Some readers (human, web crawlers and now AI) might not read through the comment section carefully, and the bump to the active queue will call attention to your recent find to other readers. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 21, 2023 at 10:02
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    $\begingroup$ Done, thanks for the suggestion! $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2023 at 10:46

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