Monday, May 20, 2024
Volcano Watch

Observatory insides improved

Much of the work done by the Hawaii Volcano Observatory (HVO) staff depends on field activities. Either scientists and technicians visit field sites to make observations and measurements, or they establish monitoring instruments that send data back to the observatory by radio or other means. Nonetheless, most of our time is spend indoors, within the confines of two buildings next to the Jaggar Museum in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The smaller of these buildings dates from the early 1960s; it is the one that points toward Mauna Loa. The larger building was completed in 1986; it has a low observation tower, readily seen from the Jaggar parking lot.

The “new” building was a wonder for its time but was built before the current eruption had started producing its nasty vog. Consequently, no need for a forced-air ventilation system was anticipated. Time has shown, however, that such a system was needed. Now, on bad vog days, we either have to close the windows and doors to keep from being gassed — and suffer stale air and hot temperatures as a result — or open the windows to enable air circulation and live with the vog.

Several years ago, a group of visiting USGS dignitaries happened to be at HVO on a bad vog day. They were appalled and immediately began searching for funds to put in an air-circulation system. The search was successful, a contract was let, and the system is now being installed.

This system will have the immediate effect of allowing HVO employees to breathe fresh, safe air during even the worst of vog days—and we have many during the course of a year. But the system has side benefits of lasting importance, too.

Few who have visited HVO realize that the main building has a full basement. We have been unable to utilize this space fully, because the lack of a circulation system, whether forced air or simply open windows, has precluded the use of the space for offices according to government regulation.

The new circulation system removes that barrier, so that the basement can become fully populated with offices and organized storage. Moreover, our small research library, which some of you have visited, will be moved to larger space on the lower floor. It will be adjacent to a larger room to house our crowded photo archive, the second largest in the USGS.

HVO has international stature as a volcano research station yet has never had a spacious conference room to facilitate formal talks and informal discussions with visitors as well as staff members. This shortcoming will change, as the current library space will morph into a good-sized conference room.

All of these improvements will lead to a healthier and more productive workplace. No longer will we be shoehorned into space designed before we needed as much room for volunteers, RCUH employees hired through a cooperative agreement between HVO and the University of Hawai`i, and visiting professors and other researchers. On the outside, the change is not apparent; on the inside, it is fundamental and will facilitate dialog and our ever-increasing collaboration with other agencies.

Arnold Okamura was instrumental in getting the ball rolling for the building upgrade. Earlier this year, Arnold retired after a 42-year-plus career with the U.S. Geological Survey, most of it at HVO. A large retirement party was held for him on January 3, at which he was honored for his many years of service.

And the honors keep coming in. Last week the Department of the Interior—the department that oversees the USGS—selected Arnold to receive its Meritorious Service Award, the second-highest award given by the department. Only a very few Interior employees receive this award, and Arnold earned the attention of the department through his innovative use of several volcano-monitoring tools, his foreign assignments, his dedication to the volunteer and ethnic-minority programs in the USGS, and his years as Deputy Scientist-in-Charge of HVO. Pat Leahy, the head of the geology section of the USGS, was visiting from the USGS home office in Reston, Virginia and presented the award to Arnold before his HVO colleagues. Congratulations, Arnold!

Activity Update

Eruptive activity at Pu`u `O`o continues. The Banana flow, which breaks out of the Mother’s Day lava tube a short distance above Pulama pali, made it to the coastal flat on May 2 and has moved to within one-half mile of the coastline. Lava viewing was spectacular for a short time early in the week. As of May 6, however, the front of the flow had stopped moving. There is no eruptive activity in Pu`u `O`o’s crater except for sporadic minor spattering.

Three earthquakes were reported felt on the island during the week ending May 6. A magnitude 3.4 earthquake occurred 11 km (7 miles) south of Volcano at 10:13 p.m. May 1 at a depth of 9 km (6 miles). The earthquake was felt in Papa`aloa and other places nearer the epicenter. Two earthquakes were felt in Leilani Estates only 24 minutes apart on May 5. The first, at 8:15 a.m., had a magnitude of 2.8 and took place 1 km ( half a mile) north-northwest of Pu`ulena Crater at a depth of 4 km (3 miles). The second, of magnitude 3.0, occurred at 8:39 a.m. from a depth of 5 km (3 miles) about 2 km (1 mile) east-northeast of Pu`ulena Crater.

Mauna Loa is not erupting. The summit region continues to inflate slowly. Seismic activity remains low, with 2 earthquakes located in the summit area during the past week.

This article was written by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and is republished by with permission.

Hawaii Star Wire

Press releases, media advisories, and other announcements submitted to the Hawaii Star.

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