Geologic Map of the Central-Southeast Flank of Mauna Loa Volcano, Island of Hawai‘i, Hawaii

Scientific Investigations Map 2932-B
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Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on Earth, has erupted 33 times since written descriptions became available in 1832. Some eruptions began with only brief seismic unrest, while others followed several months to a year of increased seismicity. Once underway, its eruptions can produce lava flows that may reach the sea in less than 24 hours, severing roads and utilities. For example, lava flows erupted from the Southwest Rift Zone (SWRZ) in 1950 advanced at an average rate of 9.3 km per hour, and all three lobes reached the ocean within approximately 24 hours (Finch and Macdonald, 1953). Near the eruptive vents, the flows must have traveled even faster. In terms of eruption frequency, pre-eruption warning, and rapid flow emplacement, Mauna Loa poses an enormous volcanic-hazard threat to the Island of Hawai‘i. Volcanic hazards on Mauna Loa may be anticipated, and risk substantially mitigated, by documenting the past activity to refine our knowledge of the hazards and by alerting the public and local government officials of our findings and their implications for hazards assessments and risk.

From the geologic record, we may deduce several generalized facts about the geologic history of the Northeast Rift Zone (NERZ). The middle to uppermost segments of the rift zone were more active in the past 4,000 years than the lower portion of the rift zone. This may be due to buttressing of the lower east rift zone by Mauna Kea and Kīlauea volcanoes. The historical flows that erupted on the north side of the rift zone advanced toward Hilo. This flank of the volcano may be more vulnerable to inundation. Lockwood (1990) noted that the vents of historical activity are migrating to the south. The volcano appears to have a self-regulating mechanism that evenly distributes long-term activity across its flanks. The geologic record also supports this notion; the time prior to the historical period (Age Group 1, pre-A.D. 1832 to 1,000 yrs B.P.; orange units) is dominated by activity on the south side of the NERZ.

Although most Mauna Loa eruptions begin in the summit area at the 12,000-ft elevation (Lockwood and Lipman, 1987), the central-southeast flank has not been the source of any activity. All flows originated from the summit or the upper reaches of the Northeast Rift Zone (NERZ) or the Southwest Rift Zone (SWRZ). The NERZ was the source of eight flank eruptions since 1843. The NERZ extends from the 13,680-ft-high summit towards Hilo (population ~60,000; second-largest city in State of Hawaii). The northern portion of the map area is built entirely on flows erupted from the NERZ. The SWRZ extends from the summit towards Kalae (South Point) at sea level. The southern portion of the map area is built entirely on flows erupted from the SWRZ.

The map area extends from the 10,350-ft elevation on Mauna Loa’s east flank toward the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the town of Volcano (population approx. 2,000) in the northeast. At the south boundary of the map area is the town of Pāhala (population approx. 900). This map includes areas adjacent to and downslope of the NERZ and regions east of and directly downslope of Moku‘āweoweo, Mauna Loa’s summit caldera.

The map encompasses 506 km2 of the southeast flank (fig. 1) of Mauna Loa from 10,350-ft elevation to sea level. The map of the central-southeast flank of Mauna Loa shows the distribution and relations of volcanic and surficial sedimentary deposits separated into 15 age groups ranging from a period greater than 50,000 yr B.P. to A.D. 1984. It incorporates previously reported work published in generalized small-scale maps (Lockwood and Lipman, 1987; Lockwood, 1995; Wolfe and Morris, 1996).

This map is the second in a series of five maps that will cover Mauna Loa volcano. See SIM 2932-A at

NOTE: Map sheet 1 contains lines and type with overprint. This feature may be turned on or off in the Adobe Acrobat page display preferences.

Suggested Citation

Trusdell, F.A., and Lockwood, J.P., 2019, Geologic map of the central-southeast flank of Mauna Loa volcano, Island of Hawai‘i, Hawaii: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 2932–B, scale 1:50,000, 2 sheets, pamphlet 23 p.,

ISSN: 2329-132X (online)

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Geologic map of the central-southeast flank of Mauna Loa Volcano, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii
Series title Scientific Investigations Map
Series number 2932-B
DOI 10.3133/sim2932B
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Volcano Science Center
Description Pamphlet: iii, 23 p.; 2 Sheets: 33.94 x 39.27 inches and 39.59 x 29.91 inches; Chemical data table; Metadata; Read Me; Geospatial data
Country United States
State Hawaii
Other Geospatial Mauna Loa Volcano
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y