Mauna Loa, the world's largest active volcano, has erupted for the first time in close to forty years, sending streams of lava flowing from its summit.
Images taken of the volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii show the incredible moment the volcano began to erupt at 11:30pm local time on Sunday (Nov 27) (09:30am on Monday, Nov 28, GMT).
The explosion took place at Moku'āweoweo, the volcano's summit crater, and as of Tuesday afternoon, lava continued to shoot around 100 to 200ft (30 to 60m) into the air out of three different crevices.
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The 200,000 inhabitants of the island have been told to prepare for a possible evacuation as the eruption continues and have been warned that falling ash from the explosion could pose a threat.
While lava currently doesn't seem to be approaching any residential areas at present, the US Geological Service (USGS) has advised that volcanic eruptions "can be very dynamic, and the location and advance of lava flows can change rapidly."
Governor David Ige said: "Lava flows are not threatening any downslope communities at this time and all indications are that the eruption will remain in the northeast rift zone.
"Volcanic ash and possibly fine ash and Pele's hair [volcanic glass fibres] may be carried downwind.
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"So, certainly we would ask that those with respiratory sensitivities to take precautions to minimise exposure."
Residents were urged to avoid the areas where the lava is shooting out, which is currently confined to the volcano's summit and vents – where the lava comes out of the ground – on the volcano's northeastern side.
The USGS has also increased the volcano's alert level from an "advisory", meaning the level of volcanic activity is higher than "background", to a "warning" – the highest classification, meaning that an eruption is imminent, underway, or suspected.
The eruption came after a spate of fairly large earthquakes which prompted speculation that an eruption was on its way.
Mauna Loa is one of five volcanoes in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which covers half of the Big Island.
The volcano's summit is 13,679ft (4,169m) above sea level and stretches across an area of more than 2,000 sq miles (5,179 sq km).
It stands next to Kilauea, another, smaller volcano that erupted in 2018, destroying around 700 homes.
However, some of Mauna Loa's slopes are steeper than Kilauea's, meaning that lava can flow faster.
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The USGS said Mauna Loa has erupted 33 times since 1843 – but this is the first time the volcano has erupted since 1984, when lava travelled to within five miles of Hilo, the Big Island's most populous town.
And since the last explosion, the Big Island's population has more than doubled.
University of East Anglia geophysicist Dr. Jessica Johnson, who has worked at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, told Newsweek: "Eruptions from Mauna Loa have the capability of sending Lava flows toward Hilo or Kona, which is the other main population centre and tourism hotspot.
"If the vents should migrate to rift zones outside of the caldera [crater], then voluminous lava flows could threaten towns on the island.
"These lava flows rarely present a risk to life, but they can be extremely destructive to infrastructure."
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