Wednesday | September 20, 2017
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A new year of volcanic milestones begins

Although Kilauea’s eruptive activity has been relatively uneventful the past 11 months, the consensus at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is that 2012 has still been quite a year.

It began, as did the previous two years, with Volcano Awareness Month in January, during which HVO scientists presented a series of informative talks about Hawaiian volcanoes and earthquakes. But 2012 was not just another year for us — it was the 100th anniversary of HVO’s founding.

Conducting and planning events to commemorate HVO’s milestone anniversary kept us especially busy in January. Among other happenings, we created a special exhibit of historical HVO images featured in a local gallery and hosted a poster contest for Hawaii Island fourth-grade students, who amazed us with their artistic interpretation of HVO’s centennial.

We also celebrated HVO’s centennial with an open house. The observatory is not ordinarily open to the public, but more than 1,400 island residents and visitors took advantage of the opportunity to see how we monitor Hawaii’s volcanoes and earthquakes through hands-on activities and displays provided by HVO staff.

During our centennial events, we distributed copies of a new U.S. Geological Survey publication written specifically for HVO’s anniversary: “The Story of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory — A Remarkable First 100 Years of Tracking Eruptions and Earthquakes.” This booklet, which includes a timeline of significant volcanic and seismic events and recounts HVO’s accomplishments since 1912, can be read online at

Several other general interest products by HVO staff were published in 2011-12: USGS Fact Sheets about Kilauea’s explosive history, earthquakes in Hawaii and the history and hazards of Mauna Loa; DVDs of selected time-lapse movies from Kilauea’s East Rift Zone eruption and the 2006 Kiholo Bay-Mahukona earthquakes; and a USGS open file report on the impact of the 2011 Japan tsunami on Hawaii. These USGS products can be accessed on HVO’s website at

HVO’s centennial year provided an occasion for USGS and other volcanologists to reflect on how far our understanding of Hawaiian volcanoes and earthquakes has come. In August, close to 180 scientists from around the world gathered on Hawaii Island to participate in “Hawaiian Volcanoes: From Source to Surface,” a conference convened by the American Geophysical Union.

An ongoing centennial endeavor is recording interviews with past and present HVO staff and volunteers to compile an oral history of HVO and Hawaiian volcanic activity. The “alumni” stories recorded so far have captured valuable memories, insights and information for future HVO staff.

Throughout 2012, HVO worked to expand and modernize its volcano monitoring network — improving its ability to keep close watch on Hawaii’s volcanoes. All the while, Kilauea continued to erupt at vents along the volcano’s East Rift Zone and at its summit. The eruptions kept us busy, but the activity was mostly uneventful until recently, when Kilauea’s summit lava lake reached its highest level to date on Oct. 26 and lava flows reached the ocean for the first time in 2012 on Nov. 24.

As the end of 2012 nears, HVO is preparing for 2013, which will be another banner year — the 30th anniversary of Kilauea’s ongoing East Rift Zone eruption on Jan. 3 and the fifth anniversary of Kilauea’s ongoing summit eruption on March 19.

The new year begins with the fourth annual Volcano Awareness Month in January, when HVO speakers will again present a series of talks. The first will focus on the 30-year history and current status of Kilauea’s East Rift Zone eruption. This same talk will be presented twice: Jan. 3 at the University of Hawaii at Hilo in room UCB 100 and Jan. 8 at Kilauea Visitor Center in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Both begin at 7 p.m. and are free to the public, but park entrance fees may apply for the After Dark in the Park program.

Throughout January, HVO scientists will present additional talks around the island. Topics include a Kilauea summit eruption update, volcano monitoring tools and techniques, Mauna Loa eruptive history and current status and more. A complete schedule and details about all Volcano Awareness Month activities will be posted on the HVO website in mid-December.

Kilauea activity update

A lava lake within the Halemaumau Overlook vent produced nighttime glow visible from the Jaggar Museum overlook and via HVO’s webcam during the past week. Since achieving an unusually high level during October, the lava lake has dropped to a deeper level within the overlook crater. Over the past week, the lava level rose slightly and experienced a few short-lived rise-fall cycles.

On Kilauea’s East Rift Zone, surface lava flows are still active on the coastal plain. Lava reached the ocean Nov. 24, creating a very weak ocean entry with a small, sporadic plume. The flows on the coast are straddling the far eastern boundary of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and the new ocean entry is outside the park. Within the Puu Oo crater, the northeastern pit still holds a small lava lake, and occasional small flows have recently erupted from a few openings near the southeastern edge of the crater.

Two earthquakes were reported felt recently. A magnitude-4.3 earthquake occurred at 5:59 p.m. Nov. 24 and was located about four miles northeast of Loihi seamount at a depth of 11 miles. A magnitude-3.8 quake occurred at 1:56 a.m. Nov. 25 and was located about six miles northwest of Kaena Point at a depth of six miles.

Visit the HVO website at for detailed Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Hualalai activity updates, recent volcano photos; recent earthquakes and more; call 967-8862 for a Kilauea summary; email questions to

Volcano Watch is a weekly article and activity update written by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.