Volcano Watch - Dallas Peck: former HVO geologist and master gardener

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Dallas Peck, one of the finest geologists to have matriculated at the Hawaiʻian Volcano Observatory, died August 21 in Fairfax, Virginia, at the age of 76.

Dallas Peck at lower end of tramline used to get equipment into `Alae Crater

Dallas Peck at lower end of tramline used to get equipment into `Alae Crater. (Public domain.)

Dallas was on the staff in 1963-65, observing an eruption in `Alae pit crater in 1963 that formed a lava lake on which he focused his research for the next decade. The resulting scientific papers quantifying the cooling and crystallization of lava in the lake brought him an international reputation that lives to this day. He joked afterward that no one could ever check his work, because "his" lake was flooded by lava in February 1969.

Don Swanson, geologist on the current HVO staff, was acquainted with Dallas and crossed paths with him on many occasions. Some of Don's memories follow.

Dallas transferred from HVO to the USGS office in Menlo Park, California, at about the time I was hired there. Several months later, he asked me to review a manuscript he'd prepared about some of his lava lake studies. Not one to be star struck, I lit into the manuscript, finding fault everywhere in bold red pen. Dallas took the comments in stride, even incorporating some into the published paper, and he patiently discussed my misguided criticisms with me in a way that showed his kindness to neophytes and tolerance of ignorance.

I was at HVO in 1969. We had a Model 6 Geodimeter, an instrument that measured distances electronically, but it didn't have the power to measure long distances for my research. Luckily, the company was just starting to market a laser instrument, the Model 8, that had all the power needed-for a cool $25 grand, 1969 dollars.

I pleaded to buy the Model 8 with Dallas, who at that time was in Reston, Virginia, and head of all geochemistry and geophysics work in the USGS. He encouraged me to test the instrument, so I flew to Sacramento, where Jim Carter, salesman and friend of HVO, held a winning demonstration. I wrote Dallas, gushing the virtues of the Model 8, and mentioned that Jim would lower the purchase price if we traded in the Model 6, though I thought that was a bad idea.

Dallas agreed to buy the Model 8, but only if we traded in the trusty Model 6. I whined, arguing that two guns are better than one, and that, if the Model 8 did not prove itself, I would have won only a Pyrrhic victory. Dallas held his ground, but one of his carpool members told me that he got a snort out of the Pyrrhic victory argument.

Dallas's approval of the Model 8 was the single most important step in what followed, for the instrument was used to demonstrate, for the first time, that the south flank of Kīlauea is unstable and moving seaward.

In 1977, Dallas became head of all earth scientists in the USGS, and, in 1981, President Reagan selected him as the 11th Director of the USGS, a position he held until 1993. In these two roles, Dallas strongly influenced the development of the Cascades Volcano Observatory after the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption.

I met with Dallas several times in Vancouver, Washington, during the formative stages of CVO and his tenure as volcanology advisor to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Dallas had changed a bit, wearing suits more often and seeing the bureaucratic side of things, but he remained exceptionally supportive of volcanology done at CVO, HVO, and throughout the organization.

We exchanged e-mails several times during the past two years, for Dallas and his wife Shirley were planning a vacation in Volcano. Sadly, it had to be postponed several times owing to illnesses, and it now will never happen.

Dallas's after-hours passion was gardening, and he was a member of the Virginia Master Gardener Association.

His gardening skills are a metaphor for his career. He steadfastly believed in nurturing young scientists and new research, with a down-to-earth wisdom seldom seen in most bureaucrats. Dallas will be remembered most for his years of high-level management, but we at HVO recall him as a friend, colleague, and avid supporter of volcano studies.

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 few surface flows breaking out of the tube. Flows are visible intermittently on the steep slope of Pulama pali and on the coastal plain. As of September 15, lava is entering the ocean at East Lae`apuki.

The embayment left by the 11-acre bench collapse at East Lae`apuki on August 27 was mostly refilled by September 9, although small bench collapses continue to occur. Large cracks cross both the old and new parts of the bench.

Access to the ocean entry and the surrounding area remains closed due to significant hazards. 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 reported felt on Hawai`i Island within the past week.

Mauna Loa is not erupting. During the week ending September 14, one earthquake was located beneath the summit area. It was not deep nor long-period in nature. Inflation continues.