The world’s longest-running record of direct readings of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is the Keeling Curve, measurements taken at the summit of Mauna Loa in Hawaii. The readings have been going on with almost no interruption since Charles Keeling began taking them in the 1950s. But the eruption of Mauna Loa last November toppled power lines at the mountaintop observatory and buried a mile of the main road up the mountain in lava.
Scientists have been scrambling to resume measurements and the near-term solution has been to take them, for the first time, on Mauna Kea, the neighboring large volcano about 25 miles away. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration flew in and installed instruments at the Mauna Kea observatory so that only about a week went by without measurements. It happened so quickly because months earlier, NOAA had already started looking into installing a backup site on Mauna Kea where there is an observatory run by the University of Hawaii.
NOAA used helicopters to install solar panels and batteries on Mauna Loa to restore power in the short term since it will be months before a new road can be built on the still-cooling lava. The plan is to collect parallel measurements for a year to see if Mauna Kea, which hasn’t erupted for thousands of years, might become a long-term backup for Mauna Loa.
The Hawaiian volcanoes are uniquely suited for the measurements because they are surrounded by thousands of miles of empty ocean and are very high up, away from towns, cars, and forests. Scientists are now monitoring measurements from the two sites to see how they compare.
Battling Lava and Snowstorms, 2.5 Miles Above the Pacific
Photo, posted November 2, 2015, courtesy of Neal Simpson via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio