Volcano Watch: Ruy Finch, HVO’s second Director, went to the core of volcanology and apple-growing

Magnetometer setup in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Gordon Macdonald, H.R. Joesting, and Ruy Finch inspecting the arrangement in 1951. Photo courtesy of USGS/HVO

Magnetometer setup in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Gordon Macdonald, H.R. Joesting, and Ruy Finch inspecting the arrangement in 1951. Photo courtesy of USGS/HVO

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

Ruy Finch, in charge of HVO during the explosive eruption, examining a crack related to the 1919 eruption that formed Mauna Iki. Photo courtesy of USGS/HVO

Ruy Finch, in charge of HVO during the explosive eruption, examining a crack related to the 1919 eruption that formed Mauna Iki. Photo courtesy of USGS/HVO

During 2012, HVO’s Centennial Year, it’s useful to recognize the careers of those scientists from whose work we have learned much. One such individual is Ohio native Ruy H. Finch.

Ruy started his professional life in 1910 as a seismologist for the U.S. Weather Bureau, the federal agency that was responsible for recording earthquakes at the time. For most of the next decade, he reported on a variety of events like earthquakes in the eastern U.S., a cold-wave fish kill in Florida, and an education outreach effort describing efforts by the federal government to safeguard life and property of its citizens.

During these same years, HVO was founded with support provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and private donations through the Honolulu-based Hawaiian Volcano Research Association. But Jaggar wanted the stability of long-term support that would only be available as part of a federal agency, and he vigorously pursued this idea. In July 1919, HVO became part of the Weather Bureau, and Ruy Finch was transferred to fill the seismologist position.

Jaggar immediately began training Finch, his new seismologist, in the ways of Hawaiian volcanism, but Finch’s first few months were a “trial by fire.” In September, a little more than 3 months after Finch arrived in Hawai`i, Mauna Loa erupted along its southwest rift zone, sending a lava flow to the ocean in about 24 hours. Halema`uma`u lava lake, which was also active, required close monitoring. And after only 7 months on the job, Finch was put in charge of HVO – a big responsibility for the 30-year-old scientist – when Jaggar left for 3 months.

Calibrating the magnetometers inside the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory library. From left to right: Ruy Finch, Gordon Macdonald, Burt Loucks, and Joel Swartz in 1950. Photo courtesy of USGS/HVO

Calibrating the magnetometers inside the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory library. From left to right: Ruy Finch, Gordon Macdonald, Burt Loucks, and Joel Swartz in 1950. Photo courtesy of USGS/HVO

Ruy Finch was also in charge of HVO during the months preceding and during the explosive eruptions of Halema`uma`u in May 1924, again during one of Jaggar’s absences. Finch ably enlisted a group of volunteers to make observations of the activity from several different vantage points. In particular, Finch had warned of imminent explosions only minutes before a boulder was ejected, crushing both legs of a Pahala photographer.

Later in 1924, Finch published a short paper detailing an approach to predicting tsunami in the Pacific Ocean. While tsunami were known to be associated with large submarine or coastal earthquakes, communications were not fast enough to relay earthquake information to potentially affected communities ahead of the tsunami. Finch and Jaggar suggested that the earthquake itself could do the communication because the seismic waves travelled about 60 times faster than tsunami. This is still the foundation of tsunami prediction today.

Later in 1924, the administration of HVO was transferred from the Weather Bureau to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS established a Section of Volcanology under Jaggar in 1926, who established a second monitoring effort at Mount Lassen in California, a volcano that had erupted explosively in 1914-1917.

Floor of caldera near southeast rim of Halemaumau at 11 a.m. on May 13, 1924. Photo by R.H. Finch

Floor of caldera near southeast rim of Halemaumau at 11 a.m. on May 13, 1924. Photo by R.H. Finch

Ruy Finch was selected to set up and run the Lassen observatory but, in 1935, the Great Depression forced the USGS to abandon its gains in volcano monitoring. The National Park Service took over both observatories but only retained Thomas Jaggar. Finch’s position was cut.

The Finch family moved to an apple orchard in Watsonville, California, where he grew apples for the next 5 years.

In 1940, Jaggar retired, and Ruy Finch was selected as the second Director of HVO. Finch led HVO through the Second World War and two more Mauna Loa eruptions while continuing to publish important scientific works in volcanology and seismology, including detailed descriptions of the Mauna Loa 1942 eruption, seismic tremor, and earthquake sequences. Illness finally slowed him, and he retired to a Watsonville apple orchard in early 1951, where he died in 1957.

HVO is indebted to Ruy Finch for his many accomplishments during these early years. He was just as comfortable delving into Kilauea’s explosive deposits as he was deciphering seismic signals accompanying volcanic events. We follow in his lead today merging interpretations of geological, geophysical, and geochemical data to get the best idea of the way volcanoes work. Ruy was a good apple.

At the front of the lava surge, the thin surface crust rolls up as it advances in April, creating a ropey pahoehoe texture. USGS Photo by David Dow

At the front of the lava surge, the thin surface crust rolls up as it advances on April 19, 2012, creating a ropey pahoehoe texture. USGS/HVO Photo by David Dow

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