Perched on the rim of one of the most restless and accessible volcanoes on Earth, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has studied the happenings and processes associated with volcanism over the past century. It has developed crucial methods for hazards assessment, mitigation and awareness. Its work continues to make an impact and intrigue.
Sunday evening, HVO scientist-in-charge Jim Kauahikaua gave a brief synopsis of the observatory’s 1912 founding and accomplishments during the Hawaii Volcanoes: From Source to Surface conference, convened by the American Geophysical Union, at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott.
On Jan. 17, 1912, geologist Thomas A. Jaggar Jr. went to Kilauea to begin the first continuous, meticulous tracking of volcanic and earthquake activity — the core function of HVO. Jaggar founded the observatory to protect human life and property from natural hazards on the basis of sound scientific achievement. Since scientists have investigated and provided important insight into the relationship between eruptions and earthquakes, developed the tsunami-warning forecasts, experimented with diverting lava flows, studied the dynamics of surface flows, lava lakes or gas, and more.
Kauahikaua listed several accomplishments by HVO leaders through the years. He mentioned Don Swanson’s interpretations of traditional Hawaiian chants in terms of geologic origin of Kilauea caldera, as well as his extensive study of Kilauea’s dynamic behavior. Kauahikaua shared how Jerry Eaton came up with a different way to measure tilt and how his studies lead to a model of volcanism that remains unchanged. Other leaders recognized were Thomas Wright, Robert Decker, Robert Tilling and James Moore.
HVO geologist Matt Patrick then presented an overview of Kilauea’s ongoing east rift zone and summit eruptions. In particular, Patrick focused the causes behind the explosions at Halemaumau, what drives gas pistoning (the cyclical rise and fall of the lava column), the patterns of filling and failure, and the connection from the rift zones to the summit.
He hoped attendees took away the importance of viewing the summit and rift zones as a system, as well as how crucial visual observation and the integration of multiple data sets are for examining entire processes — all of which are HVO’s strengths. He explained how modern state-of-the-art instruments, such as the 14 high-speed, high resolution cameras installed over the past couple of years, have enabled continuous observation and more understanding. For instance, a camera gave HVO scientists further insight into the significant explosive events which has led to Kilauea’s summit vent in Halemaumau Crater to grow from about 115 feet in diameter when it first opened in March 2008 to more than 500 feet in diameter today. They discovered rock falls from crater walls were triggering small explosions and the rock falls intensified when lava levels were higher than normal.
These talks kicked off the six-day conference, ending Friday. More than 150 volcanologists will be reflecting on how far their understanding of volcanoes has come since the HVO was established. They will also look to the future, identifying the remaining questions about Hawaiian volcanoes and the direction volcano reach should go. The conference is part of a year-long commemoration of HVO’s 100th anniversary.