The story behind the "Volcano Watch" columns

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"Volcano Watch is a weekly article and activity update written by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory." These words—the tagline at the end of each article—are often overlooked, leaving some readers wondering about who writes "Volcano Watch."

Even if the tagline is noted, some readers mistakenly attribute "Volcano Watch" to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, thinking that the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) and the Park are one in the same. HVO is located in, and works closely with, the Park—and both are Department of Interior agencies—but HVO and Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park are actually separate organizations administered by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service, respectively.

David Clague, Scientist-in-Charge of HVO from 1991 to 1996, is credited with starting the "Volcano Watch" series, as we know it today, in November 1991. Clague was essentially sole author of the series through March 1995, after which writing the weekly articles became a shared task of HVO's staff. With 175 articles to his credit, however, Clague reigns as the king of "Volcano Watch."

To date, only one other person has written more than 100 "Volcano Watch" articles: Don Swanson, who has penned 116 articles—and counting. Swanson served as HVO's Scientist-in-Charge from 1997 to 2004 and continues to make valuable contributions to HVO today.

In addition to Clague and Swanson, another 67 dedicated scientists have had a hand in writing "Volcano Watch" over the years, with many individuals contributing more than 10 articles. Leading this group of prolific writers is HVO's current Scientist-in-Charge, Jim Kauahikaua, who has written 67 articles during his 22 years at HVO.

As of this week, a total of 972 "Volcano Watch" articles have been published since 1991. While the lion's share of these articles has been authored or co-authored by current and former HVO scientists, including some outstanding volunteers, we would be remiss to not acknowledge the contributions of USGS Biological Resources Division staff, who wrote a dozen or so articles in 1998-2001.

Although the beginning of "Volcano Watch" in its current format is attributed to Clague in 1991, the idea of writing a series about Hawaiian volcanic activity actually dates back to 1975, when Robert (Bob) and Barbara Decker submitted 52 weekly columns titled "Volcano Watching" to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. Bob eventually served as HVO's Scientist-in-Charge from 1979 to 1984, but the weekly columns were written during his tenure as Geology Professor at Dartmouth College. The Decker's "Volcano Watching" series has since been compiled in a booklet of the same name, the second edition of which will soon be published by the Hawai‘i Natural History Association.

Submitting volcano updates to a local newspaper can be traced back even further to Frank Perrett, who came to Hawai‘i in 1911 to work on Kīlauea, where he and Frank Shepherd established the first observation station on the rim of Halema‘uma‘u Crater. In what could be considered an early rendition of "Volcano Watch," Perret sent weekly reports to the Pacific Commercial Advertiser (later named The Honolulu Advertiser).

Today, a core group of about 20 HVO scientists share the responsibility of "Volcano Watch," with each person writing, on average, 3-4 articles per year. After all these years, you might think we'd run out of topics to write about, but the nature of our work—monitoring active volcanoes and earthquakes—seems to provide endless ideas. Even a simple question—for instance, "Who writes Volcano Watch?"—can inspire an article.

"Volcano Watch" began as a way to keep Hawai‘i residents informed about Kīlauea's ongoing and ever-changing eruption, which remains a frequent and popular subject. The series has since evolved and expanded to include a variety of topics. While most articles focus on volcanoes and earthquakes in Hawai‘i and new or innovative methods of monitoring Hawaiian volcanoes, some articles are based on global volcanism. On occasion, we also address interesting events or phenomena not related to volcanic activity.

Whatever topics we choose, HVO scientists write "Volcano Watch" with you, our loyal readers and fellow volcano enthusiasts, in mind. If you'd like to suggest a topic for a future article, please send it to


Volcano Activity Update

Surface flows from Kīlauea's east rift zone eruption were active near the end of Highway 130, just west of Kalapana, through the first half of the week. These flows stalled on Wednesday, September 29. Lava flows within the Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō crater, however, started that same afternoon and were weakly active as of this writing (Thursday, September 30). Lava continues to enter the lava tube system and is carried downslope to Puhi-o-Kalaikini, near Kalapana, where it enters the ocean and creates a large steam plume.

At Kīlauea's summit, the circulating lava lake deep in the collapse pit within the floor of Halema‘uma‘u Crater has been visible via Webcam throughout the past week. The lava level has fluctuated slowly in tandem with the deflation-inflation cycles. This slow change has also been interrupted sporadically by abrupt increases in the height of the lava surface. These periods of high lava level have been short-lived, lasting up to several hours, and each ended with a sudden drop of the lava surface back to its previous level. Volcanic gas emissions remain elevated, resulting in high concentrations of sulfur dioxide downwind.

No earthquakes beneath Hawai‘i Island were reported felt during the past week.