An acorn that grew into five volcano observatories

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The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has monitored, studied, and served as an information source about Hawaiian volcanism for the past 100 years.

The acorn that Thomas Jaggar planted in 1912 has grown into an oak tree over the years. Today, HVO is part of a substantially larger organization: the U.S. Geological Survey Volcano Hazard Program, which currently operates five volcano observatories. The USGS has continuously operated HVO since 1947.

Before 1980, the perceived probability of volcanic eruptions within the conterminous United States was generally low, because only a single significant eruption had occurred there in the 20th century. Lassen Peak, in northern California, erupted from 1914 to 1917. With the support of HVO, Lassen Peak observatory was established in 1926 in Mineral, California. Another volcano observatory was established in 1927—this one was on Kodiak Island, Alaska. The Lassen Peak and Kodiak Island observatories were both modest endeavors and neither one survived the Great Depression in the 1930s. HVO survived, but only narrowly, through severe austerity.

In the late 1950s, geologic studies began to unravel the eruptive histories of volcanoes in the conterminous U.S. To those familiar with these studies it became apparent that the probability of dangerous explosive eruptions at some volcanoes was cause for concern. Work by two USGS geologists—Rocky Crandell and Don Mullineaux—indicated that Mount St. Helens was at the top of the "most likely to erupt" list. They even published a paper in 1975 that stated that it could erupt "perhaps before the end of the century." But the growing concern over volcanic hazards on the mainland in general, and Mount St. Helens in particular, did not translate into the increased funding necessary to construct observatories and monitoring networks.

Concern about volcanic hazards on the mainland increased dramatically, both within the government and the general public, on May 18, 1980, when an eruption of Mount St. Helens caused tragic human and material losses. New funding materialized and the Volcano Hazards Program began to grow substantially. The USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO) in Vancouver, Washington, was authorized in 1980 and was formally dedicated in 1982. CVO is responsible for volcanoes in Washington and Oregon, and is home to a team of volcanologists that, upon request, helps foreign governments deal with volcano crises.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) in Anchorage and Fairbanks was founded in 1988, following the 1986 eruption of Augustine Volcano and just 18 months before Redoubt Volcano reawakened. A fully loaded 747 airliner's encounter with an ash cloud from Redoubt dramatically illustrated the hazards explosive eruptions pose to aircraft. AVO—a collaboration between the USGS, the State of Alaska, and the University of Alaska—is responsible for monitoring volcanoes in Alaska and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. Ash-aircraft issues are a key focus of AVO.

The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) was founded in 2001, to coordinate and strengthen long-term volcanic and seismic monitoring in the Yellowstone National Park region. YVO is a collaboration of the USGS, Yellowstone National Park, and the University of Utah.

The USGS California Volcano Observatory (CalVO), the newest observatory, was founded in February of 2012. CalVO manages the monitoring efforts for volcanoes in California and Nevada from Menlo Park, California.

The Volcano Hazard Program is mandated by Congress to communicate scientific findings to authorities and the public in a timely manner and in an understandable form. Perhaps the most efficient way to deliver this information is via the Internet, so the Volcano Hazard Program's newly designed website aims to deliver reliable information on U.S. volcanoes and their hazards in an easy-to-understand and user-friendly format.

Websites for the older observatories were developed independently—each with its own architecture. These websites will be sequentially redesigned so that they present a common look and feel. The redesigned sites will be "volcano-centric," in recognition of the fact that most users find their way to a given observatory's website while searching for a specific volcano. Users either are currently able, or will be able, to view seismic data, webcams, deformation data, gas emission data, and hydrological data from real-time instruments via a dynamic, map-based display system. Check out the website at


Volcano Activity Update

A lava lake within the Halema‘uma‘u Overlook vent resulted in night-time glow that was visible from the Jaggar Museum overlook and by HVO's Webcam during the past week. The lake level was relatively stable at about 70 m (230 ft) below the floor of Halema‘uma‘u Crater, though occasional rise-fall cycles caused the lava level to rise slightly for periods of a few hours.

On Kīlauea's east rift zone, surface lava flows on the coastal plain and pali have been relatively weak over the past week. The active flow front made no significant advancement and was still more than 2 km (1.2 miles) from the ocean. There was no active ocean entry. Incandescence in Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō was brightest from the small lava pond in the pit on the northeastern side of the crater floor. A second pit, on the south side of the crater, was also bright and probably holds a small lava pond. Neither pond was directly visible via Webcam.

Two earthquakes were reported felt beneath the Island of Hawai‘i in the past week. At 00:07 a.m. (just after midnight), HST, on Sunday, August 19, 2012, a magnitude-3.7 earthquake occurred 13 km (8 mi) southeast of Kīlauea summit at a depth of 9 km (5.5 mi). At 1:07 a.m. on Wednesday, August 22, a magnitude 2.9 earthquake occurred 33 km (20 mi) southwest and offshore of Hāwī at a depth of 9 km (6 mi).