Volcano Watch — HVO bids a fond farewell to a geologist and a friend

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HVO loses one of its most versatile research scientists next week, when Rick Hoblitt returns to his home base, the Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO), after more than four years in Hawai`i.

This is a photo of Rick Hoblitt.

Rick in his natural environment, standing over a lava tube.

(Public domain.)

Rick arrived at HVO in August 2001, after a long career of working on active volcanoes almost everywhere in the world except Hawai`i. During the 15 years he was stationed at CVO, Rick worked extensively on Mount St. Helens and other volcanoes of the Cascade Range and Alaska. He also served on crisis assistance teams that responded to calls for help from foreign countries with restless or erupting volcanoes. These included Popocatepetl in Mexico, Tungurahua and Guagua Pichincha in Ecuador, Montserrat in the West Indies, and Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.

At HVO, Rick put this experience--plus his skills in designing equipment and the software to run it--to use in studying the current eruption of Kīlauea. One of his goals was to find a reliable method of continuously measuring the lava output from the volcano. Working near Pu`u `O`o, he installed seismic instruments over an active lava tube to see whether the intensity of vibrations caused by lava and gas flowing through the tube could be correlated to fluctuations in the output from the vent.

This proved to a very labor-intensive experiment, which required designing and building instruments, writing software to analyze the data, and installing the equipment in very inhospitable environments. Rick spent many weeks camped out in the rain and fume near Pu`u `O`o, babysitting the equipment while it collected data. Rick will continue to analyze the data after his return to the mainland, and his final report has the potential to substantially advance our understanding of how volcanoes work.

Visitors to HVO's web site will appreciate another of Rick's accomplishments. He directed the design, construction, and installation of remotely controlled pan-tilt-zoom camera systems, on the rim of both Pu`u `O`o crater and Mauna Loa's Moku`aweoweo Crater. The images from these cameras are radioed back to the observatory in real time, where those from Pu`u `O`o are uploaded to the HVO web site. Starting this Sunday, you can see the images from the summit of Mauna Loa on the web, too.

We'll miss Rick's quirky sense of humor, the depth and breadth of his knowledge, and his resourcefulness in both field and office. We'll also miss his wife Marian, who readily volunteered her time at HVO and put in more than 1,000 volunteer hours for the Resource Management Division of Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. Aloha Rick and Marian!

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Volcano Activity Update

During the past week, Kīlauea Volcano has remained at a slightly higher level of activity at the summit. The number of earthquakes located beneath Kīlauea remains at moderate levels. Inflation of the summit caldera continues at the accelerated rate started on January 12.

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 on the flank of Pu`u `O`o to the ocean, with scattered surface flows breaking out of the tube. In the past week, flows were active intermittently above the pali at the 2,300-ft and 1,800-ft elevations; on the slope of the pali; and on the coastal plain, about 1.2 km inland of the ocean at Kamoamoa. Surface flows on the pali are visible at night (weather permitting) from the end of Chain of Craters Road.

As of February 2, lava is entering the ocean at East Lae`apuki, in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. The active lava bench continues to regrow following the major collapse of November 28. 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 three earthquakes beneath Hawai`i Island reported felt within the past week. The first two were a magnitude-3.0 earthquake, which occurred at 10:29 p.m. on Sunday, January 29, and a magnitude-3.1 earthquake, which occurred at 7:35 a.m. on Monday, January 30; both were located 3 km (2 miles) southeast of Kīlauea summit at a depth of 3 km (2 miles). A magnitude-2.9 earthquake occurred at 12:42 p.m. on Wednesday, February 1, and was located 11 km (7 miles) southwest of Pepe`ekeo at a depth of 23 km (14 miles).

Mauna Loa is not erupting. During the past week, no earthquakes of any kind were located beneath the volcano's summit. Inflation continues, but at a rate that has slowed since early October 2005.