We’ve always known both Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes are fed by the same hot spot. But new research shows the two volcanoes are connected, 50 miles below the earth’s surface. The discovery, researchers say, offers the “first plausible model that can explain both the opposing long-term eruptive patterns at Mauna Loa and Kilauea — when one is active the other is quiet, and vice-versa…”

The study, which appears in the November issue of Nature Geoscience, was a joint research project between the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Rice University, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Carnegie Institute of Washington. Excerpts from a news release:

“When we fitted the deformation, which tells us how much a volcano inflates and deflates, and the lava eruption rate at Kilauea, we found that our model could simultaneously match the deformation signal recorded over on Mauna Loa,” said James Foster, co-author and Assistant Researcher at the UHM School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST). “The model also required an increase in the magma supply rate to the deep system that matched very nicely with our interpretations and the increased magma supply suggested by the jump in CO2 emissions that occurred in late 2003.”

The researchers constructed a simple computer model for the magma storage and transport systems for Kilauea and Mauna Loa that connected them via a deep partially molten layer that can be thought of as a deep magma reservoir. The transmission of pressure through the permeable rock in the asthenosphere is akin to the processes that cause water and oil to flow through permeable layers of rock in shallower regions of Earth’s crust.

Image courtesy of USGS.