A transect of submersible dives across the submarine west flank of Mauna Loa volcano yields compelling evidence for volcanic spreading and associated hydrothermal circulation during volcano growth. A frontal bench at the toe of the flank, formerly thought to be a downdropped block of Mauna Loa, contains a mix of volcaniclastic lithologies, including distally derived siltstone, mudstone, and hyaloclastite. The bench is overlain by bedded gravels and subaerially erupted pillow flows derived from local shoreline-crossing lava flows. The volcaniclastic strata in the bench were offscraped, uplifted, and accreted to the edge of the flank, as it plowed seaward into the surrounding moat. The accreted strata underwent significant diagenesis, through deep burial and circulation of hydrothermal fluids expelled from porous sediments beneath the volcano. Timing constraints for bench growth and breakup suggest that catastrophic failure of the subaerial edifice ca. 250–200 ka triggered volcanic spreading by reducing stresses resisting basal sliding and rift-zone inflation. Increased eruptive activity, and westward migration of Mauna Loa's southwest rift zone, gradually rebuilt the massive flank, arresting slip prior to detachment of the Alika 2 debris avalanche ca. 120 ka.

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