(Volcano Watch is a weekly article written by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.)
On May 21, 2010, Kilauea Volcano’s ongoing eruption reaches a milestone: 10,000 days!
The eruption began Jan. 3, 1983, when a series of fissures roared to life on Kilauea’s east rift zone. As the eruption progressed, it eventually focused on a single vent, forming the cinder-and-spatter cone now called Puu Oo during three years of episodic high lava fountains.
Since then, lava erupted from the east rift zone has covered about 47 square miles of the volcano’s south flank, and continues to flow to the ocean today.
In March 2008, another vent opened at the summit of Kilauea. Located in Halemaumau Crater, this vent continues to emit elevated levels of sulfur dioxide and erupt small amounts of volcanic ash.
Whether you measure the activity in years (27) or days (10,000), Kilauea has now been erupting for a long time. Even so, this event is far from the longest-known eruption on the volcano. In the 19th century, vents at the summit of Kilauea were continuously active for almost 100 years, and in the 1400s, a vent just east of Kilauea Iki is believed to have erupted for about 60 years.
More remarkable than its extended duration is the fact that we are now witnessing the first sustained eruption of two vents on the same volcano at the same time Through each change in the eruption, HVO scientists have monitored Kilauea’s every twist and turn. But what is HVO and who are these scientists?
“HVO,” which stands for “Hawaiian Volcano Observatory,” was founded in 1912 by Thomas A. Jaggar. During its almost 100-year-long history, HVO has been managed by several different organizations, but in 1947, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) became its permanent administrator. HVO is now one of five volcano observatories in the United States operated by the USGS.
As part of the USGS Volcano Hazards Program, HVO’s mission is to monitor, conduct research on, and assess hazards from volcanic eruptions and earthquakes on Hawaiian volcanoes. This mission is accomplished with a staff that has grown from one geologist (Jaggar) in 1912 to a team of almost 30 people today.
Just as it would require more than a hammer to build a house, more than one scientific tool is required to adequately monitor a volcano. Thus, HVO’s staff includes specialists in a variety of fields—geology, seismology, gas geochemistry, geodesy (deformation), and geophysics — each of whom uses various monitoring tools and techniques. The HVO team also includes staff with expertise in computer technology, library and photo archives, electronics, administration, and public information, as well as a talented
group of short- and long-term volunteers.
A common misconception about HVO is that it is part of the National Park Service (NPS). This is understandable, since HVO is located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park — our office buildings are adjacent to the NPS-managed Thomas A. Jaggar Museum, named for HVO’s founder — and because HVO was managed by NPS from 1935 to 1947.
Although now administered by separate organizations, HVO works closely with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, forming a collaborative relationship that is fostered and appreciated by both the USGS and NPS. HVO also collaborates with State and County agencies, such as county Civil Defense.
During a volcanic eruption or after an earthquake, HVO scientists provide scientific data — for example, geologic mapping and hazards assessments — needed to ensure the safety of island residents and visitors.
Emergency Managers, land owners, or land managers can then use our information to choose the best way to mitigate hazards.
Kilauea’s current eruption has now reached 10,000 days — and could continue for years or decades to come. Whatever the future holds, HVO scientists will continue to carefully monitor the eruption — as well as other volcanoes in Hawaii — and to maintain strong lines of communication with National Park and public safety officials.
HVO will also continue to keep island residents and visitors informed about Kilauea and other Hawaiian volcanoes through eruption updates, photographs, videos, and Webcam images posted on the HVO Web site; Volcano Awareness Month events; and in weekly Volcano Watch articles written by HVO scientists.