New geologist is a timely addition to HVO staff

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Alert readers of this column will know that the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) has seen the addition of several new employees this year.

New geologist is a timely addition to HVO staff...

Matt Patrick, new HVO geologist, during a recent trip to the active lava flows east of Pu`u `O`o.

(Public domain.)

On October 1, HVO grew a little larger, a little more experienced, and a little younger when Matt Patrick joined the observatory staff. Matt brings a wealth of new experience and training to HVO and has arrived just in the nick of time. The current eruption is an excellent place for him to put his extensive skill set to good use.

Matt grew up in the northern New York town of Plattsburgh, on the banks of Lake Champlain. He stayed in his home state for his undergraduate work at Cornell University and traveled to Argentina for several months in 1998 to study structural geology.

In 1999, Matt began his pursuit of a Master's degree at the University of Alaska, which opened his eyes to the fascinating world of volcanology. His research in Alaska centered on remote sensing of the 1997 eruption of Okmok Volcano, located in the Aleutian Islands. Also while in Alaska, Matt assisted with satellite-based volcano monitoring as part of the Alaska Volcano Observatory's work.

Matt moved to the Aloha State in 2002 to pursue doctoral work at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa. His research focused on using thermal imagery to study small-scale explosive volcanic eruptions. During the course of his studies, Matt traveled to Italy several times to document activity at Stromboli Volcano. Following the completion of his Ph.D. in 2005, Matt spent a year as a post-doctoral researcher at UH-Manoa investigating deformation of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes using satellite-based radar and the Global Positioning System.

After four years in Hawai`i, Matt moved back to the mainland in 2006 to start a position as a researcher at Michigan Technological University. Matt's research there focused on remote sensing of the volcanoes of Central America and included trips to study volcanoes in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and El Salvador.

Matt's arrival at HVO could not have come at a better time. The new eruptive vent east of Pu`u `O`o has the entire staff working overtime to track and assess the likely future course of the activity, including potential hazards to populated areas. HVO will benefit from Matt's extensive skills in thermal imagery, remote sensing, observational geology, and modeling. He is no stranger to volcano monitoring, having used his skills in remote sensing to provide interpretations of several recent eruptions at volcanoes around the world, including in, and around, Antarctica.

Even though he has only been working at HVO for a month-and-a-half, Matt has already made important contributions to our understanding of the current eruption. By using thermal remote sensing data and his knowledge of lava flows, Matt was able to estimate the volume of lava that has been erupted from the new fissure since late July. The estimate was in good agreement with other volume calculations based on gas emissions and topographic measurements, and provided important constraints on the rate of lava eruption from the new vent.

Matt has also spent much of his brief tenure at HVO observing the new eruptive vent in the field. He is currently working to uncover the origin of episodic channel spattering and overturn events. They are manifested by tremor signals at a nearby seismometer and provide us with spectacular images in the webcams. Matt will also use thermal imagery to study lava tube formation development, which is especially relevant to current eruptive activity.

The HVO family is pleased to welcome Matt back to Hawai`i, and we look forward to many years of collaboration with our new geologist!


Volcano Activity Update

Kīlauea summit and Pu`u `O`o continued to deflate slowly, although the changes have been quite small over the past week. Seismic tremor levels continued to be low. Earthquakes were located mostly beneath Halema`uma`u Crater and the south flank faults.

The July 21 eruption continues to supply lava into a perched channel from eruptive fissure D, 2.3 km (1.4 mi) northeast of Pu`u `O`o. It forms a discontinuous, north-northeast-trending molten stream about 1.4 km (0.9 mi) long. The channel has been segmented into separate pools due to narrow sections roofing-over to form bridges. Overflows from both sides of the channel continue to build up its walls. Lava backing up behind the bridges has elevated each upstream section of the channel above its downstream neighbor, giving the channel a stair-stepped appearance dropping downstream to the northeast.

Near the end of the channel, lava drains into a tube carrying lava to the east and supplying it to several slowly advancing pahoehoe flows. This thin, dispersed flow was moving east along the crest of Kīlauea's east rift zone over lava erupted in 1977 but had stagnated at its farthest extent (4.6 km, or 2.9 miles, from the north end of the channel) by Sunday, November 4. Further lava supplied by this easterly tube has been active about 1 km (0.7 mi) upstream from the terminus near Pu`u Kia`i. Besides these flows, small `a`a flows continue to be fed from intermittent seeps breaking out from the north and south sides of the channel.

At Pu`u `O`o, no incandescence has been seen on the Webcam at night since August. The heavy fume coming from Pu`u `O`o completely obscures any view into the crater. As in years past, Pu`u `O`o likely is serving as a large chimney, beneath which lava is stored briefly and degassed substantially enroute to the erupting fissure. Sloughing of Pu`u `O`o into its own crater since late August has left numerous fresh cracks on the north rim and south flank of the cone.

Vent areas are hazardous. Access to the eruption site, in the Pu`u Kahauale`a Natural Area Reserve, is closed (

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

Mauna Loa is not erupting. Five earthquakes were located beneath the summit. Extension between locations spanning the summit, indicating inflation, continues at steady, slow rates.