End of an Era at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

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As many are undoubtedly aware, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) marks the Centennial of its founding in January 2012 (see http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/ for a schedule of events).

End of an Era 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.

(Public domain.)

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 retired 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 Kīlauea's summit that November. In response to the eruption, Maurice led surveying campaigns to track detailed changes in elevation across Kīlauea.

In 1969 and 1970, Maurice was instrumental in building and surveying the first large-scale network at Kīlauea to measure how points on the volcano move horizontally. This network revealed that Kīlauea'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.

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 Kīlauea'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.


Volcano Activity Update

A lava lake present within the Halema‘uma‘u Overlook vent over the past week resulted in night-time glow that was visible from the Jaggar Museum overlook. The lake, which is about 75–100 m (245–330 ft) below the floor of Halema‘uma‘u Crater and is visible by HVO's Webcam, rose and fell slightly during the week in response to deflation-inflation cycles.

On Kīlauea's east rift zone, surface lava flows continued to be active on the coastal plain, entering the ocean at West Ka‘ili‘ili, within the National Park. The ocean entry has had a weak, wispy plume. Flows continued to be active in the abandoned Royal Gardens subdivision over the past week, as well. The flows traveled through a lava tube fed by the September 21 fissure on the upper east flank of the Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō cone. A deflation-inflation cycle that began on Tuesday, December 27, appeared to have slowed down surface flow activity at the time of writing (Thursday, December 29); flow activity will likely increase within a few days.

One earthquake beneath Hawai‘i Island was reported felt this past week. A magnitude-3.8 earthquake occurred at 6:40 p.m., HST, on Tuesday, December 27, 2011, and was located 20 km (13 mi) west and offshore of Kawaihae at a depth of 10 km (6 mi).