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Hawaiian Volcanoes are in the Spotlight

August 17, 2012

A conference this week in Waikōloa will examine how Hawaiian volcanoes work, from their source deep within the Earth to the eruption of gas and lava at the surface. The conference is hosted by the American Geophysical Union and organized by scientists from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. (Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Image)

The following is from this week’s edition of Volcano Watch, a weekly feature provided by scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (USGS).

In 1987, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), over 400 Earth scientists from around the world gathered in Hilo for the week-long “Hawaii Symposium on How Volcanoes Work.” The purpose of the meeting was to discuss volcanic activity across the globe, including the hazards of volcanic eruptions and strategies for volcano monitoring. The conference was a resounding success, resulted in several research volumes, and stimulated new studies in Hawaiʻi and elsewhere.This year, on the occasion of HVO’s 100th anniversary, the volcano-research spotlight will return to Hawaiʻi as over 180 scientists gather in Waikōloa during August 20-24, 2012, for the conference “Hawaiian Volcanoes: From Source to Surface.”

The meeting is a Chapman Conference hosted by the American Geophysical Union, one of the largest organizations of Earth and space scientists in the world. Chapman conferences are small meetings designed to encourage in-depth examination of specialized topics, which is not possible in larger scientific gatherings.

HVO’s centennial provides an excellent backdrop for the meeting. It is no exaggeration to say that the conference this week is a direct result of Thomas A. Jaggar’s work in founding HVO on the rim of Kīlauea Caldera in 1912. Now, 100 years later, we have an opportunity to review what we have learned during the past century of volcano observation in Hawaiʻi, identify problems in volcanological investigations, and find solutions that enable a better understanding of Hawaiian volcanoes.

Unlike the 1987 conference, scientists attending the meeting this week will focus specifically on Hawaiʻi. The topics are not limited to volcanic activity at or near the Earth’s surface, but instead will span a range of levels, tracing magma from its formation deep within the Earth, through its ascent and storage within a volcano, to its eruption of lava and gas at the surface.

The final day of the conference will be devoted to the future of volcano research in Hawaiʻi. Scientists will assess the important questions that remain about how Hawaiian volcanoes work and the data that are needed to answer those questions. Volcanologists from Tasmania to Italy, from students just beginning their careers to distinguished senior scientists, will participate in the meeting, and both HVO and the University of Hawaiʻi are well-represented.

While the conference is based around numerous scientific presentations, each day will also include small group discussions among geologists, geochemists, and geophysicists. In addition, one day of the meeting will be devoted to field trips that will take scientists to every volcano on the Island of Hawaiʻi, from Kīlauea to Kohala, allowing the attendees to visit world-class volcanic deposits and discuss volcanological problems outside the conference hall.

There are numerous Earth-science meetings every year, but the specific focus on Hawaiʻi will enable scientists to identify the most important research questions about how Hawaiian volcanoes work. New research collaborations will also form among participants who would not otherwise have a chance to interact.

Participation by students and young scientists is another important meeting goal. Conversations among researchers early in their careers and scientists who have been working in Hawaiʻi for decades will surely inspire the next generation of Hawaiʻi volcanologists. For these reasons, the conference has received the support of the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation, and the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior.

In future columns, we will describe some of the new ideas that come from the “Hawaiian Volcanoes: From Source to Surface” conference. In the meantime, be on the lookout for volcanologists as you travel about the island this week!

Kīlauea Activity Update


This is the latest image from a temporary thermal camera. The temperature scale is in degrees Celsius up to a maximum of 500 Celsius (932 Fahrenheit) for this camera model, and scales based on the maximum and minimum temperatures within the frame. Thick fume, image pixel size and other factors often result in image temperatures being lower than actual surface temperatures. (Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, USGS)

A lava lake within the Halemaʻumaʻu Overlook vent resulted in night-time glow that was visible from the Jaggar Museum overlook and by HVO’s Webcam during the past week. The lake level was relatively stable at about 70 m (230 ft) below the floor of Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, though occasional rise-fall cycles caused the lava level to rise slightly for periods of a few hours.

On Kīlauea’s east rift zone, surface lava flows on the coastal plain and pali have been relatively weak over the past week. As of Thursday, August 16, the active flow front was more than 2 km (1.2 miles) from the ocean. There was no active ocean entry. Incandescence was visible from three degassing vents within Puʻu ʻŌʻō, including the pit on the northeastern side of the crater floor that holds a small lava pond. The lava pond was too low to be directly visible via Webcam.

One earthquake was reported felt under the Island of Hawaiʻi in the past week. At 10:43 p.m., HST, on August 15, 2012, a magnitude-3.7 earthquake occurred 15 km (9 mi) south of Volcano Village at a depth of 10.5 km (6.5 mi).

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