The November issue of the Nature Geoscience journal highlights a new study by researchers that looks at the relationship between two Big Island Volcanos in a different way.
Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
For almost 30 years now, it has been erupting non-stop along the east rift zone.
Now, a new study led by scientists from Rice University, the University of Hawaii and the U.S. Geological Survey sheds some new light on the relationship between the young volcano, and the more massive Mauna Loa.
"We have come up with a new model of behavior with Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Previously, we have had to treat those volcanoes entirely separately," said UH geophysicist James Foster, a co-author of the study.
Scientists have long suspected volcanoes next to each other influence each other, now there is a new mechanism to explain how that happens.
Foster puts it this way: both volcanoes have individual plumbing that extends deep down into the Earth's crust.
"Those two volcanoes are tapping a common lair, so magma can be brought up and it accumulates and it can build up pressure and can transmit pressure waves through this lair very efficiently," said Foster.
Thanks to computer modeling with data from a network of 50 GPS sensors, and other systems that measure volcanic gases, scientists can look at Kilauea's lava show, and predict what could happen at Mauna Loa six months later.
"We are seeing Kilauea right now pressure is building up and our model would suggest that the pressure will be pushed through to Mauna Loa, so in six months we may see it increase its flow too," Foster said.
The new modeling helps to understand why sometimes both volcanoes sometimes inflate, or deflate and why they take turns.
Foster says the study was an outgrowth of discussions years ago with lead researcher Helge Gonnerman, a former UH investigator, now at Rice University.
So, if volcano watchers see that Kilauea's Pu'u O'o vent, which acts like an escape valve, stopped oozing lava, are we closer to determining when Mauna Loa might blow?
Foster laughs, and said that they aren't quite that close to making that prediction.