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Ten Years at the Top: Hawaiian Volcano Observatory’s Scientist-in-Charge Steps Aside

February 27, 2015
20150226_VW_JimK in 2012

After serving as Scientist-in-Charge of the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory for more than 10 years, Jim Kauahikaua, shown here at HVO’s Centennial Celebration in 2012, steps aside on March 8, 2015. Kauahikaua will remain on HVO’s staff as a research geophysicist, the position he originally held starting in 1988. USGS photo.

If Jim Kauahikaua had his way, you would not be reading this Volcano Watch article. That’s because he deeply dislikes being the center of attention. Nevertheless, we take this opportunity to acknowledge Jim before he steps aside as Scientist-in-Charge of the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory on March 8, 2015.

Jim, known for his iconic beard and ponytail, joined HVO’s staff as a geophysicist in 1988.  His research focused on magnetic, gravity, and electrical resistivity studies of Hawaiian volcanoes and techniques for assessing lava flow hazards and quantifying lava flow emplacement.

On October 3, 2004, Jim was named HVO’s 19th Scientist-in-Charge—the first of Hawaiian ancestry. When he steps aside, he will have served as lead scientist for more than 10 years—one of the longest terms in HVO’s history.

Since 2004, Jim has overseen substantial changes in HVO’s volcano and earthquake monitoring technologies and capabilities. A notable challenge successfully managed by Jim was HVO’s use of $3.1 million provided by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Many improvements were accomplished through that one-time boost in funding, but most importantly, HVO’s monitoring networks were expanded and made completely digital. Redundant telemetry paths were also added to ensure consistent and near-real-time connectivity between HVO and the more than 100 field-based monitoring instruments on Hawai‘i’s active volcanoes.

Scientist-in-Charge responsibilities include more than scientific achievement, and Jim certainly faced his share of difficult issues—reduced or uncertain budgets, the 2013 Federal government shut-down, and more. But his able leadership ensured that HVO’s operations and research progressed without interruption, even under the most challenging circumstances.

During the past 10 years, Jim coordinated HVO’s response to a number of significant volcanic and seismic events on the Island of Hawai‘i. These include the 2004-2005 Mauna Loa unrest, the 2006 destructive Kīholo Bay earthquake, and, on Kīlauea, the 2008 explosive opening of the summit vent within Halema‘uma‘u Crater and the 2011 Kamoamoa fissure eruption, in addition to the ongoing East Rift Zone (Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō) eruption. Jim’s expertise on lava flow emplacement and hazards served HVO well when Kīlauea lava re-entered Kalapana in 2010-2011, as well as when lava flowed northeast from Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō toward Puna communities—first in 2007, then in 2013-2014 (Kahauale‘a flows), and again with today’s still-active June 27th flow.

Responding to natural hazards is often a multi-agency effort, and Jim strengthened existing relationships and forged new ones between HVO and other Federal, State, and County agencies. As Scientist-in-Charge, he worked closely with Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency, Hawai‘i State Department of Land and Natural Resources, Hawai‘i County Civil Defense, and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center to support interagency cooperation and collaboration.

A notable milestone of Jim’s tenure as Scientist-in-Charge was HVO’s centennial celebration in 2012.  He guided plans for an HVO open house, attended by more than 1,400 Hawai‘i residents and visitors, and supported HVO staff involved in organizing an international gathering of volcanologists focused on the study of Hawaiian volcanoes and earthquakes. Jim also co-authored “The Story of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory—A Remarkable First 100 Years of Tracking Eruptions and Earthquakes” ( to commemorate HVO’s history.

Jim champions HVO’s outreach and communication efforts, often leading the charge to increase public awareness of Hawaiian volcanoes and earthquakes. He participates in community outreach events, writes numerous Volcano Watch articles each year, presents countless public talks, and personally answers many of the askHVO emails.

It’s impossible within the limits of this article to extol all that Jim accomplished as HVO’s Scientist-in-Charge. But, despite his aversion to the spotlight, we wish to recognize and express appreciation for Jim’s leadership over the past decade.

Tom Murray, Director of the USGS Volcano Science Center (and Jim’s boss), perhaps says it best: “HVO’s achievements under Jim’s leadership have been remarkable. Just responding daily to the eruption is a full-time task, but Jim has also accomplished many goals related to long-term improvements to HVO… and enhancing ties to the community. What’s best for the community, for HVO, and for the staff were his priorities. He’s been great to work with.”

Jim remains on HVO’s staff. His beard and ponytail have grayed, but his passion for studying Hawaiian volcanoes and earthquakes remains vibrant.  While he looks forward to passing the Scientist-in-Charge torch to his successor, he has no plans to slow down.  There’s research to conduct—and Jim is keen to get back to it.

National Park Introduction

February 26, 2015

Level 1 students from Pavai’ai Elementary School visited our facility this morning to learn about their national park. A brief park introduction was shared to these students that somehow tickled their interest to hike the park.

Ranger Pai and Pua took these younglings around the visitor center as well and had an energetic activity which the kids enjoyed. Go forth and be stewards of this tropical island.

See more smiles from this group at our Facebook page.

Park Rangers Visits ‘Aunu’u Island

February 26, 2015
Park rangers braved the seas as they visit 'Aunu'u Island.

Park rangers braved the seas as they visit ‘Aunu’u Island.

Bright and early today, Park Rangers Pua, Pai, and Eymard took a ferry ride (one mile trip) to the island of ‘Aunu’u to visit elementary students from A.P. Lutali.

Ranger Pai conducted a Junior Ranger program for the Level 1 students. These younglings learned the natural resources we take care of not only within park boundaries but also around the island. Smart and innocent conversations from these kids that made Ranger Pai ran out of explanations. :)

While on the other area of the school, Ranger Pua talked about ocean acidification to level 5 to 7 students. A brief video was featured to summarize his discussions about the topic. To conclude and tie everything up, Ranger Pua concluded with an experiment and a board game that would instill conservation efforts for the students.

Both groups of students had a blast with a different approach of learning and understanding with their own little way to conserve, preserve, and protect the natural resources. Fa’afetai lava to Principal Asenati and the rest of the staff of AP Lutali Elementary School for your warm welcome and the hospitality.

See more photos on our Facebook page.

Honouliuli National Monument Proclaimed in Hawaii

February 20, 2015

honouliuliYesterday, President Obama designated the Honouliuli Internment Camp on the island of Oahu in Hawaii as a national monument. According to a White House fact sheet, “This monument permanently protects a site where Japanese American citizens, resident immigrants, and prisoners of war were held captive during World War II.  Located on the island of Oahu, the monument will help tell the difficult story of the internment camp’s impact on the Japanese American community and the fragility of civil rights during times of conflict. Honouliuli Internment Camp, located in a steep canyon not far from Pearl Harbor, opened in March, 1943 and was the largest and longest-used confinement site for Japanese and European Americans and resident immigrants in Hawaii, eventually holding 400 civilian internees and 4,000 prisoners of war. The camp was largely forgotten until uncovered in 2002, and the President’s designation will ensure its stories are told for generations.”

“At Honouliuli National Monument, we will share the stories of those who were unjustly held there during World War II as a reminder to the world about the importance of protecting civil liberties, even in times of national crisis.” National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis

The following information was provided by the Monument’s official website (

Honouliuli National Monument is located on land that, during World War II, served as the largest and longest-used confinement site for Japanese Americans, European Americans, and resident aliens in Hawai’i.

Run by the U.S. Army and opened in March 1943, Honouliuli was both a civilian internment camp and a prisoner of war camp with a population of approximately 400 internees and 4,000 prisoners of war over the course of its use. The 160 acre internment camp contained 175 buildings, 14 guard towers, and over 400 tents. Internees referred to Honouliuli as Jigoku-Dani (“Hell Valley”) because its secluded location in a deep gulch trapped heat and moisture and reinforced the internees’ sense of isolation and unjust imprisonment.

The majority of Honouliuli’s civilian internees were American citizens—predominantly Japanese Americans who were citizens by birth—suspected of disloyalty. They included community, business, and religious leaders. The remaining group comprised predominantly German Americans, though there were also Americans and aliens of Italian, Irish, Russian, and Scandinavian descent.

As a prisoner of war camp, Honouliuli held enemy soldiers and labor conscripts from Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan, and Italy. Honouliuli also held women and children who were Japanese civilians displaced from the Pacific. Honouliuli closed in 1946 and was soon forgotten as Americans celebrated the victories of World War II. Fast-growing vegetation quickly took over the site.

World War II Internment in Hawai’i
Early on December 7, 1941, as the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor and before martial law was invoked that afternoon, government officials began selectively rounding up Hawai’i residents suspected of disloyalty. They were imprisoned at local jails, courthouses, and facilities on six of the main Hawaiian Islands. Roughly 800 people were interned and eventually transported to the U.S. Immigration Station and the Sand Island Detention Camp on O’ahu in this early period. Nearly all the internees were of Japanese descent; they included influential leaders of the Japanese American community who were educated, were teachers or priests, or had access to means of communication with Japan or to transportation from Hawai’i. Most would be sent to the mainland to live out the duration of the war in Department of Justice and War Relocation Authority camps. The primary legal mechanism used to authorize internment in Hawai’i was martial law. During the period of martial law from December 7, 1941, to October 24, 1944, the U.S. Army issued hundreds of military orders, some of which were applicable only to persons of Japanese ancestry and enemy aliens. For example, people of Japanese ancestry were restricted from residing in certain areas of O’ahu and were forcibly removed from their properties. These types of discriminatory policies created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion.

While the government did consider mass incarceration in Hawai’i, it was deemed impractical. Hawai’i’s Japanese American citizenry and immigrant population was over one third of the territory’s total population, and their labor was needed to sustain the economy and the war effort in the islands.

By war’s end, approximately 2,000 people of Japanese ancestry from Hawai’i were interned. Despite the suspicion of disloyalty, none of the Japanese American internees from Hawai’i was ever found guilty of sabotage, espionage, or overt acts against the United States.

Honouliuli National Monument is a new national park unit without formal services and programs at this time. Access to Honouliuli National Monument is by reservation only. At present, there are no NPS facilities on site. In the coming months and years, you will see more visitor opportunities, interpretive and educational programs, and notices regarding the new monument. Honouliuli National Monument is managed by staff of the National Park Service Pacific West Region.


‘Ohe Kāpala: Printing Tradition in the Hearts of Visitors

February 16, 2015

Earlier this week at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, Park Ranger and Hawaiian scholar Noah Gomes demonstrated the art of ‘ohe kāpala (traditional Hawaiian bamboo stamping) at the Kīlauea Visitor Center lānai. Using wood paint paddle sticks and foam stickers, visitors of all ages had the opportunity to bring out their artistic side and create their own ‘ohe kāpala design. As visitors stamped their works of art on to canvas bags to take home, Ranger Noah explained the significance and history of this Hawaiian tradition, and answered questions about his knowledge of the Hawaiian archipelago.

Visitors of all ages participate in the ‘ohe kāpala workshop.

Visitors of all ages participate in the ‘ohe kāpala workshop. (NPS photo/Christa Sadler).

This program is part of Hawai‘i Volcanoes’ ongoing ‘Ike Hana No‘eau “Experience the Skillful Work” workshop series, and it’s free, thanks to support from the Hawai‘i Pacific Parks Association.

Ranger Noah chats with visitors about ‘ohe kāpala. (NPS photo/Christa Sadler).

Ranger Noah chats with visitors about ‘ohe kāpala. (NPS photo/Christa Sadler).

Workshop participant shows off her turtle ‘ohe kāpala design. (NPS photo/ Stephen Geiger).

Workshop participant shows off her turtle ‘ohe kāpala design. (NPS photo/ Stephen Geiger).

Ranger Noah is a graduate student in Hawaiian Language and Literature at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo and holds a Bachelors of Arts in Hawaiian Language. Originally from Wahiawā, Oʻahu, he now resides in Hilo. Noah has been a lifelong student of Hawaiian natural history and is currently researching the ancient bird hunters of the Hawaiian archipelago. ‘Ohe kapala is a skill he learned from his university education and through personal interest.

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park SCA intern displays her ‘ohe kāpala tote bag. (NPS photo/Stephen Geiger).

The author, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park SCA intern Christa, displays her ‘ohe kāpala tote bag. (NPS photo/Stephen Geiger).

The author is a Student Conservation Association/AmeriCorps intern working with Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park on the park’s centennial initiatives.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 14, 2015


Celebrate Presidents Day Weekend with Free Admission to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park

February 11, 2015

Make an executive decision to visit a national park this Presidents Day weekend. All fee-charging national parks will offer free admission from February 14 through 16, including Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

The National Park Service will also waive admission fees on five additional days in 2015 – April 18 and 19 (the first weekend of National Park Week), August 25 (the National Park Service’s 99th birthday), September 26 (National Public Lands Day), and November 11 (Veterans Day).

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park offers visitors more than 150 miles of hiking and walking trails, including Sulphur Banks trail, just a short distance from Kīlauea Visitor Center. NPS Photo.

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park offers visitors more than 150 miles of hiking and walking trails, including Sulphur Banks trail, just a short distance from Kīlauea Visitor Center. NPS Photo.

An additional fee-free weekend will be offered at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park May 15-16 for the BioBlitz and Biodiversity & Cultural Festival. During this two-day event, hosted by National Geographic and the National Park Service, teams of scientists, Hawaiian cultural practitioners, students and the public will join forces to discover, document and celebrate the biodiversity and culture of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

Hawai‘i Volcanoes is one of five national park units on the island of Hawai‘i. Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is also free of charge on the NPS fee-free 2015 dates. Pu‘ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site, Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, and the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail do not charge entrance fees.


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