Isaac Hale descendant has joined the staff at HVO

Release Date:

Hawaiian tradition dictates that travelers chant their genealogies upon meeting to let everyone know where they came from, both literally and figuratively. Since he has already presented his credentials to us, let us now introduce to you Lopaka Lee, who was transferred this week to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory from the U.S. Geological Survey's offices in Denver, Colorado.

Isaac Hale descendant has joined the staff at HVO...

Lopaka Lee between soil cores in the Sierra Nevada foothills, California.

(Public domain.)

Lopaka grew up in Puna and attended Kea`au Elementary School (the old one). He was one of the well-known Hale family of Poho`iki, and his grand uncle was Isaac Hale, for whom the popular beach park was named. Isaac was the first Hawaiian killed in the Korean War.

Lopaka's parents met at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa and both worked for the Public Health Service, which offered some opportunities to travel. Their first move was to Spokane, Washington, to work with the Nez Pierce and Spokane Indian tribes. Lopaka's dad's family, from Vancouver, Washington, had a summer cabin near Harry Truman's lodge at Spirit Lake on the flank of Mount St. Helens; they saw the volcano often. Little did they realize that, after the May 18, 1980, explosion expelled tons of ash into the air, Lopaka and his classmates would be wearing dust masks to school in Spokane.

The Public Health Service moved the family to Fort Apache, Arizona, where they worked with the White Mountain Apache tribe, and to Tucson, Arizona, where Lopaka graduated from Sabino High School. Going on to college at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, Lopaka majored in geology, an interest he says was spawned during his childhood in Puna on Kīlauea Volcano. His family also has volcano connections: his mother's family lost their home in the 1960 eruption of Kīlauea that destroyed the town of Kapoho, his dad's family lost their summer cabin on Mount St. Helens in 1980.

While at NAU, he participated in the first controlled flooding of the Grand Canyon. This was an experiment to simulate the seasonal flooding that ceased when the Glenn Canyon Dam was completed in 1963. Among other things, engineers were interested in whether restoring the seasonal floods could replenish beaches and habitats within the canyon.

Sticking with geology, Lopaka did graduate work at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. His thesis on the effect of the nation's largest natural source of lead on the local ground water in the Ozark Mountains earned him a Master of Geological Engineering degree. While at "Mines," Lopaka was hired by the USGS as a SCEP (Student Career Experience Program) student intern at the Federal Center in Denver, and a career was born.

But he really wanted to come back to Hawai`i. His parents had retired from the Public Health Service and returned to Hawai`i. His mother, Nani Rothfus, works for Hui Malama Ola Na `Oiwi, and his father, Gary, is a realtor with Prudential Real Estate on the Big Island. But there are not many opportunities for a skilled earth scientist in Hawai`i.

In addition to becoming a geoscientist, Lopaka had been developing an intimate knowledge of computers, networks, and statistics - expertise that HVO desperately needs. The several feet of snow that fell on Denver in the past few months helped seal the deal, and Lopaka and his wife, Holly, arrived last week.

The relocation has posed a few concerns, such as how to convert loads of rock-climbing gear into diving equipment. Lopaka has completed some amazing climbs, including Desert Shield and Space Shot in Zion National Park, Utah, and is hoping to add some amazing dives to his list of experiences. We hope the diving and every other pursuit goes well for this returning native son. Please join us in welcoming Lopaka to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

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Volcano Activity Update

This past week, activity levels at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano have remained at background levels. The number of earthquakes located in the summit area is low (usually less than 10 per day are large enough to locate).

Eruptive activity at Pu`u `O`o continues. On clear nights, glow is visible from several vents within the crater. Lava is fed through the PKK lava tube from its source on the southwest flank of Pu`u `O`o to the ocean. About 1 kilometer south of Pu`u `O`o, the Campout flow branches off from the PKK tube. The PKK and Campout tubes feed two widely separated ocean entries, at East Lae`apuki and East Ka`ili`ili, respectively. Both entries are located inside Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park.

A third entry, fed by an offshoot of the Campout flow, has been active since December 26. It is located at Kamokuna, about midway between the two older entries. In the last week, intermittent breakouts from the Campout tube have continued on the slope of Pulama pali and on the coastal plain near Kamokuna. A new breakout from the main PKK tube has been advancing down the pali in the past two weeks, more than a kilometer west of the Campout tube. The terminus was less than one mile from the ocean.

Access to the sea cliff near the ocean entries is closed, due to significant hazards. The surrounding area, however, is open. If you visit the eruption site, check with the rangers for current updates, and remember to carry lots of water when venturing out onto the flow field.

No earthquakes of Hawai`i Island were reported felt within the past week.

Mauna Loa is not erupting. During the past week, earthquake activity remained low beneath the volcano's summit (no earthquakes were located). Extension of distances between locations spanning the summit, indicating inflation, continues at slow rates.