This photo from 2004 shows lava below a skylight, or in collapsed pit, atop Okita shield, the highest shield along the Mother’s Day tube system. The width of opening was 5-7 meters. (Special to West Hawaii Today/Hawaiian Volcano Observatory)
The Puhi-o-Kalaikini ocean entry was a prominent feature along the coastline in fall 2010. The outline of Puu Oo can be seen on the horizon. (Special to West Hawaii Today/Hawaiian Volcano Observatory)
This composite image from 2010 shows the coastal plain near Kalapana. It combines a thermal image and a conventional photograph. The majority of lava is traveling through the lava tube system to the ocean and is not easily detectable in the image. Sometimes, however, the lava tubes do show a clear thermal signature. For example, several lines of high temperature delineate the lava tube just inland of the ocean entry. Active breakouts are shown by the yellow-white areas on the flow field. In October 2010, there were two relatively small breakouts active. The large area of purple and red colors in the foreground shows the flows emplaced in July and August 2010. (Special to West Hawaii Today/Hawaiian Volcano Observatory)
The future of studying Hawaii’s volcanoes may include more centralized data analysis, a former Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientist-in-charge says.
“For efficiency, organizations are going to start thinking about things like that,” said David Clague, now of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute during the closing session at the American Geophysical Union’s Chapman Conference at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Friday. “How do we get even more bang for the same bucks?”
A centralized location collecting data from Hawaii and other observatories around the country would allow for uniformity in how the information is studied, Clague said.
Automated equipment in use in Hawaii will make that kind of centralization easier, he added. Things like webcams and field monitors can record data around the clock, he noted.
Clague said he doesn’t see some of the kinds of measurements, or even kinds of data collected, changing significantly in the next century. Scientists are still collecting deformation data, which looks at changes to surface height, as they did years ago. The difference, he said, is scientists now use GPS, not manual methods.
Clague warned against relying too heavily on satellites to perform observations.
“They’re very expensive,” he said. “I do not see an organization like the Geological Survey ever having the budget to put up satellites.”
To use satellites would mean relying on another agency, whose mission is not the same as the U.S. Geological Survey, he added.
Scientists in the next century have plenty of questions to study and areas in which knowledge of the Hawaiian volcanoes can be expanded, Clague said.
For one, while scientists have defined the eruptive stages of the Hawaiian volcanoes, based on the formation, eruption and post-shield phases of the volcanoes across the state, not a single volcano in the chain goes through every stage. Clague said the volcanoes tend to either have a post-shield eruption or a rejuvenation phase. What scientists also don’t yet know is what triggers a volcano to enter one of those phases and erupt again.
“We don’t know what the precursors of those look like,” Clague said. “They almost certainly don’t have a deformation signal, because there’s no pool. Do we get two days of earthquakes and then an eruption? We need to learn more about those kinds of eruptions so we’re prepared in Hawaii for those eruptions.”
He would like to see more study of why Hawaii Island is sinking.
“The islands sink like crazy,” Clague said. “We don’t really understand why we get this level of sinking. When you really look at it, older islands did not subside as far. Hawaii goes much much deeper. The deepest reefs around most of the main Hawaiian islands are about a thousand meters.”
Around Hawaii Island, the reefs have already sunk deeper than that, and the sinking isn’t finished, he said. The sinking doesn’t happen in a linear fashion, either, he said. Right now, the island is sinking a few centimeters a year. That doesn’t seem like much, he said, but gave an example to illustrate it. The seawall in Kailua-Kona was built about 100 years ago and has sunk about a foot in that time.
Clague said scientists would like to know more about the landslides around the islands, and more about Loihi and its eruptions.
“We don’t know what kind of hazard that might pose in terms of tsunami,” he said. “It could be a very serious hazard. Most of the time since 1996 we’ve had no real monitoring on Loihi at all.”
With all those questions to be answered, and because so many people are moving on to the more dangerous volcanoes around the world, Clague said he sees plenty of employment opportunities in the field.
“In many of these countries, there’s no place left to go,” he said. “These monitoring tools will remain as important as they are now.”