Categorized | Sci-Tech, Volcano

Volcano Watch: End of an Era at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

(Volcano Watch is a weekly article written by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.)

Ever-smiling Maurice Sako during the mid-point of his career in the 1980s.  Maurice retires this week after a 44-year career at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Ever-smiling Maurice Sako during the mid-point of his career in the 1980s. Maurice retires this week after a 44-year career at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

As many are undoubtedly aware, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) marks the Centennial of its founding in January 2012 (see hvo.wr.usgs.gov/ for a schedule of events). Less widely known is that staff member Maurice Sako’s career has spanned nearly half of HVO’s first 100 years. On December 31, Maurice is retiring after more than 44 years of service to the Observatory.

Born and raised in Hilo, Maurice graduated from Hilo High School, served two years in the military, and earned his engineering associate’s degree before joining the HVO staff in July 1967. Maurice’s professional relationship with Hawai`i’s volcanic activity began almost immediately with the start of an eight-month-long eruption in Halema`uma`u Crater at Kilauea’s summit that November. In response to the eruption, Maurice led surveying campaigns to track detailed changes in elevation across Kilauea.

In 1969 and 1970, Maurice was instrumental in building and surveying the first large-scale network at Kilauea to measure how points on the volcano move horizontally. This network revealed that Kilauea’s south flank slides seaward at rates, on average, of several centimeters per year.

In the decades that followed, Maurice marshaled many deformation surveys to document changes related to volcanic and earthquake activity across the state. He developed an international reputation as a master surveyor and for the high quality of his work. Maurice also worked alongside, trained, and mentored hundreds of co-workers, visiting scientists and students from around the world.

Although based at HVO throughout his career, Maurice has been frequently called upon to lend his expertise elsewhere—a testament to his broad expertise, knowledge and, versatility. He has visited the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands repeatedly to measure and interpret volcanic deformation, build seismic stations, and map eruption deposits. He has also traveled to Mayon volcano, Philippines; Yellowstone, Wyoming; Mammoth, California; and the Cascade volcanoes of Washington, Oregon, and northern California. Maurice has even responded to major earthquakes, working in California following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Kalapana earthquake of November 29, 1975. Collapse offsetting the center line of Chain of Craters Road just south of Pauahi Crater. Photo courtesy of USGS/HVO

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Kalapana earthquake of November 29, 1975. Collapse offsetting the center line of Chain of Craters Road just south of Pauahi Crater. Photo courtesy of USGS/HVO

In addition to his expertise, Maurice is renowned for his photographic memory. One notable example occurred following the 1975 Kalapana earthquake. Scientists were having trouble finding a deformation station on Kilauea’s south coast, near Keauhou Landing. The area had subsided below sea level as a result of the earthquake, but measuring the station was critical to understanding the earthquake process. Maurice was brought in. After briefly scanning the scene, he waded into the ocean and proceeded directly to the submerged station.

HVO’s monitoring practices have evolved with time, and Maurice helped lead these efforts. He was central to establishing HVO’s current GPS and tilt networks, and most recently has worked to upgrade HVO’s seismic and deformation stations with the latest sensor and telecommunications technology.

Although principally attached to HVO’s ground deformation monitoring effort, Maurice is a volcanologist in every sense. There is probably not a job at HVO that he hasn’t done, from installing volcano monitoring equipment, to collecting rock and gas samples, from mapping volcanic deposits to tracking eruptions.

The celebration of HVO’s centennial is bittersweet as we bid a fond farewell to a colleague, a mentor, and a friend who has been an invaluable asset to the institution for nearly half a century. He will be missed. Congratulations, Maurice, on your long career at HVO. Thank you and best wishes for a most happy retirement.

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