Volcano Watch — Communication is the name of the game

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Five HVO scientists are in San Francisco this week, attending the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Five HVO scientists are in San Francisco this week, attending the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. At this annual affair, several thousand earth scientists from North America and elsewhere exchange and debate ideas, discuss new and old trends in the science, and learn about new concepts and technologies that help improve our understanding of how the Earth works.

Science advances by such communication. Modern science, contrary to popular mythology, is not conducted in isolation or in a vacuum. Mad scientists in lab coats, cackling to themselves in backroom laboratories as they conjure up potions to change the world or build time machines that violate physical laws, are figments of imagination. Scientists, like everyone else, work with others and need to communicate with them. They use several ways to do so.

Scientists write for one another. They write scientific essays, called papers, that are published in magazines, called journals. That is, some of the papers are published. Many fall by the wayside, not passing muster after tough critiques by colleagues, who may find fault with the data, with the interpretations of the data, or with the way in which the data and ideas are presented. Some journals have rejection rates of more than 50 percent. It's a tough world out there! Scientists receive no fee for papers published in journals; they write simply to formalize their thoughts and then communicate them to colleagues. This year HVO scientists have published, or have had accepted for publication, some 26 papers. None was rejected.

Scientists talk to one another. Meetings such as the one this week are highlighted by formal lectures, lasting 10-15 minutes, in which new ideas and information are conveyed in highly condensed presentations, with time for only a few questions. After the talks, those most interested in the subjects round up the speakers and find out more. Some talks are dreadful, some inspiring. Sound familiar? The discussions continue into the evening hours as good and bad ideas are bandied about informally. This year HVO scientists presented or contributed to 29 formal talks, seven at this week's meeting in San Francisco.

Scientists "show and tell" to one another. At many meetings, scores of small booths in exhibit halls contain displays of recent research, called posters. One or more of the authors stands by each poster, ready to answer questions from interested observers. Posters are becoming more common at scientific meetings, for they provide a less hectic manner of presentation and discussion than do the short talks. HVO scientists are co-authors of eight posters at this week's meeting.

Finally, scientists make informal presentations, either written or oral, to the general public. We try to explain earth science in plain English, not in technical words understood only by specialists. For us these are sometimes the most challenging but also the most rewarding forms of communication. The Volcano Watch column is an example of what we attempt to do in the interest of public awareness. This year HVO scientists have made more than 100 public presentations, orally or written, to residents and visitors on the Big Island.

In brief, communication is the name of the game for scientists, whether it be among colleagues or with the public. The concept of the ivory tower loner is outdated and, in truth, was always incorrect. Scientists are no different than you. We may have professions other than yours, but the challenges are the same. We all want to do our jobs well and tell others about it.

Volcano Activity Update

The eruption of Kīlauea at the Pu`u `O`o vent continued throughout the past week. Loud jetting roars caused by energetic degassing from two vents on the flanks of Pu`u `O`o were heard by residents of Puna and Volcano intermittently for the past two weeks. Strong wind conditions have carried glass filaments (Pele's hair) produced by these events to nearby subdivisions. Several collapses of the western (Kamokuna) coastal bench have been observed recently by visitors. The conditions at the coastal lava flow entries are very unstable, and the frequent collapses result in explosive activity. Lava viewers are reminded that the area is extremely hazardous.

Two earthquakes were reported felt during the past week. Both earthquakes occurred on Sunday morning, November 30. The first earthquake was felt in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at 7:36 a.m. and had a magnitude of 3.5. It was located 3 km south of Kīlauea summit at a shallow depth. The second earthquake had a magnitude of 2.4 and was felt at 10:27 a.m. by a resident in Leilani Estates. The epicenter was 4.5 km southeast of Pahoa at a depth of 2.8 km.