Scientists are frantically trying to re-establish the vital monitoring that has been situated on the volcano since 1958 after a volcanic eruption in Hawaii forced the closure of the world’s top measurement site for global carbon dioxide levels.
Since Sunday night, lava has been shooting more than 150 feet into the air from Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano in the world, and a river of molten rock is now endangering not only Hawaii’s big island’s main highway but also the Mauna Loa Observatory, a scientific station located on the volcano’s northern flank.
The facility is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), which reported that the observatory’s power lines have been damaged and that the flow of lava from the volcano has rendered an access road to the location impassable.
With the observatory’s eight-person scientific staff unable to access its instruments, measurements of the world’s CO2 level, which have been taking place at Mauna Loa since 1958 and have become a key benchmark in the escalation of the climate crisis, have been put on hold as a result of the eruption.
According to a Noaa spokesperson, scientists are working to develop a backup plan to keep measuring CO2, such as moving the equipment to a different location. “We hope to have everything back relatively soon, the team is evaluating that now,” she said. “The site is unique, but they are working at plan B solutions now.”
The largest of the islands that make up the archipelago of the US state of Hawaii, Mauna Loa is one of the five volcanoes that make up the island of Hawaii. The observatory is perched on top of a volcano at a height of 11,135 feet, and its isolation and typically unpolluted, clean air are seen as advantages for its work of documenting the planet’s seemingly unstoppable rise in carbon dioxide concentrations.
The Keeling curve, named after Charles Keeling, the scientist who served as the site’s first director, describes the rise in CO2 levels observed at Mauna Loa. In recent decades, the levels have consistently and steadily risen. The global CO2 concentration reached 421 parts per million in June, according to Noaa, the highest level in millions of years and a 50% increase over pre-industrial times.
For nearly 6,000 years of human civilization, CO2 levels were around 280 parts per million before humans began spewing massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. The world faces a terrible climate breakdown threat from the quick increase in the heat-trapping gas, which manifests as extreme heatwaves, floods, droughts, and wildfires.
The volcano is erupting for the first time since 1984, and while the lava is moving slowly—less than 1mph—and isn’t currently posing a threat to any island towns, it is still emitting sulfur and pungent gases. The governor of Hawaii, David Ige, has issued a warning about glass fibers that resemble long strands of hair and form when hot lava erupts and then cools in the air. Those who have respiratory sensitivities should take precautions to reduce exposure, he said.
Saddle Road, the island’s main thoroughfare, is only a few miles from the lava flow, and parking has been prohibited in certain areas of the road. The nearby, smaller volcano Kilauea, which has been erupting since last year, is still producing lava while the eruption is taking place. Ige stated that as long as tourists stay away from the remote area of the volcanic expulsion, Hawaii is still “completely safe” to visit.