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A New Year of Volcanic Milestones Ahead…

November 30, 2012
The lava lake in Halemaʻumaʻu Crater a few weeks back. (USGS)

The lava lake in Halemaʻumaʻu Crater a few weeks back. (USGS)

The following is this week’s installment of “Volcano Watch” from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (USGS):

As HVO’s centennial year ends, a New Year of volcanic milestones begins

Although Kīlauea’s eruptive activity has been relatively uneventful the past 11 months, the consensus at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) 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.

Thomas Jaggar (second from left) prepares to measure the temperature of the Halema`uma`u lava lake in 1917. (USGS)

Thomas Jaggar (second from left) prepares to measure the temperature of the Halema`uma`u lava lake in 1917. (USGS)

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 Hawaiʻi Island 4th grade students, who amazed us with their artistic interpretation of HVO’s centennial.

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

During our centennial events, we distributed copies of a new USGS 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 2011-2012: USGS Fact Sheets about Kīlauea’s explosive history, earthquakes in Hawaiʻi, and the history and hazards of Mauna Loa; DVDs of selected time-lapse movies from Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone eruption and the 2006 Kīholo Bay-Māhukona earthquakes; and a USGS Open File Report on the impact of the 2011 Japan tsunami on Hawaiʻi. These USGS products can be accessed on HVO’s Website (

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 Hawaiʻi Island to participate in “Hawaiian Volcanoes: From Source to Surface,” a conference convened by the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

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.

Lava entering the ocean earlier this year. (USGS)

Lava entering the ocean earlier this year. (USGS)

Throughout 2012, HVO diligently worked to expand and modernize its volcano monitoring network—improving our ability to keep close watch on Hawaiʻi’s volcanoes. All the while, Kīlauea 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 Kīlauea’s summit lava lake reached its highest level to date (October 26), and lava flows reached the ocean for the first time in 2012 (November 24).

As the end of 2012 nears, HVO is preparing for 2013, which will be another banner year—the 30th anniversary of Kīlauea’s ongoing East Rift Zone eruption (January 3), and the 5th anniversary of Kīlauea’s ongoing summit eruption (March 19).

The New Year begins with the 4th 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 Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone eruption. This same talk will be presented twice: on January 3, at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, in Room UCB 100, and on January 8, at Kīlauea Visitor Center in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. Both begin at 7:00 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 Kīlauea 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.

We look forward to marking Kīlauea’s volcanic milestones in 2013 with talks in January and other programs later in the year. Hope to see you there!

Current webcam view of the lava lake in Halema'uma'u Crater. (USGS)

Current webcam view of the lava lake in Halema’uma’u Crater. (USGS)

Kīlauea Activity Update

A lava lake within the Halemaʻumaʻu Overlook vent produced night-time glow that was 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 Kīlauea’s east rift zone, surface lava flows are still active on the coastal plain. Lava reached the ocean on Saturday, November 24, creating a very weak ocean entry with a small, sporadic plume. The flows on the coast are straddling the far eastern boundary of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, and the new ocean entry is outside the Park. Within the Puʻu ʻŌʻō 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 in the last week. A magnitude-4.3 earthquake occurred at 5:59 p.m., HST, on November 24, 2012, and was located about 7 km (4 miles) northeast of Lōʻihi seamount at a depth of 17 km (11 miles). A magnitude-3.8 quake occurred at 1:56 a.m. on November 25, 2012, and was located about 9 km (6 miles) northwest of Kaʻena Point at a depth of 9 km (6 miles).

Visit for detailed Kīlauea and Mauna Loa activity updates, recent volcano photos, recent earthquakes, and more; call (808) 967-8862 for a Kīlauea activity summary; email questions to

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