Volcano Watch - The CSAV Program - training for future volcano scientists

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Each year the University of Hawai`i at Hilo and the Hawaiʻian Volcano Observatory run two training courses at the Centre for the Study of Active Volcanoes (CSAV). One is for international participants and is usually attended by students from volcano observatories in Central and South America, Indonesia, and the Caribbean.

Volcanologist in volcanic field

Mike Poland, current HVO Geophysicist for Deformation, attended CSAV's Field Methods in Volcanology course in 1995.

(Public domain.)

The other course is for US students with an interest in pursuing a career in volcanology.

The CSAV program was the brainchild of the late Bob Decker, former Scientist-in-Charge at HVO. Many of the international students work at relatively isolated observatories and have only occasional interaction with external scientists. They come to Hawai`i, not only to broaden their experience throughout all aspects of volcano monitoring, but also to refine their particular expertise.

For domestic students, largely geology majors or young researchers, it is usually their first exposure to an active volcano. The experience for them is unparalleled. For years, they have read about the remarkable patterns of swelling and subsidence of Kīlauea's summit and how they relate to eruptive activity. Looking at the dots and contours in a textbook is one thing. To find themselves practicing their leveling skills across the same hallowed turf with the backdrop of Mauna Loa is an electrifying experience.

They will have read about the intrepid research drilling into Kīlauea Iki's lava lake after the 1959 explosion sequence. The drilling work led to the development of models of how magma bodies cool and graphically demonstrated that new magmas really do evolve from a cooling basaltic crystal mush. To walk across this vast, solidified lake gives one a deep appreciation of those results and of the work involved in obtaining them - an appreciation that reading about the work or seeing the activity on a TV spectacular can never give.

They experience firsthand the difficulties of monitoring the Hawaiʻian volcanoes - volcanoes that are so immense and in part, so remote, that the only practical way to access many areas of them is by helicopter. They study the technical wizardry that allows HVO to stream data from scores of remote seismometers and monitoring instruments - the backbone of its operation.

At another level, they examine the multitude of field details that make volcanology so rewarding. Many of the geological features in the National Park are things most people never even see - strange surface formations on lava flow fields, sky-lights into lava tubes, vast craters from former eruptions, rift zones and fault blocks, eruptive vents, lava-tree molds and of course Pele's hair and tears.

The students receive formal training in some of the traditional surveying techniques used at HVO, as well as surveying with the highest-precision GPS equipment available. They use miniature spectrometers to analyze sulphur dioxide flux from the volcano. These spectrometers have taken the volcano-monitoring world by storm - indeed, at HVO, we have only been using them for the last two years. They install the newest broadband seismometers - instruments that can record earthquakes of almost any size and wavelength - and analyze the earthquakes they collect.

The USA has a remarkable volcanic pedigree. With over 150 volcanoes in different tectonic settings, the hazard potential is as acute as it is diverse. A number are in eruption, and several more show extreme unrest. While the business of monitoring and research is crucial to hazard mitigation, these volcanoes are also the best training ground for the next generation of volcanologists and seismologists.

The new generation will grapple with the same problems, make some of the same mistakes, and find new solutions. The CSAV program is an initiative designed to expose them to the complexities of volcano monitoring and maximize their learning. As years of gas inhalation and plodding over hot flows take their toll on the HVO staff, new ones occasionally join the observatory. It is particularly gratifying to see members of the CSAV classes ultimately returning to work for the USGS in the Volcano Hazards Program. Indeed, the newest researcher in the deformation group at HVO was a student in the CSAV class 10 years ago.

For the CSAV staff, we have the pleasure of seeing the new generation develop and the honor of continuing Bob Decker's legacy.

Volcano Activity Update

Eruptive activity at Pu`u `O`o continues. On clear nights, glow is visible from several vents within the crater and on the southwest side of the cone.

Lava continues to flow through the PKK lava tube from its source near Pu`u `O`o to the ocean, with very few surface flows breaking out of the tube. Small flows are visible intermittently on the steep slope of Pulama pali. Two ocean entries, at East Lae`apuki and East Kamoamoa, were active as of August 11. Several partial collapses of the East Lae`apuki bench have occurred during the last two weeks. One of these removed as much as 5 acres over a two hour period. Access to the ocean entries and the surrounding area has been closed due to significant hazards. No easily accessible surface flows are currently present. 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.

There were no earthquakes felt on Hawai`i Island within the past week.

Mauna Loa is not erupting. During the week ending August 10, only three earthquakes were recorded beneath the summit area. None of them were deep or long-period in nature. Inflation continues.