Volcano Watch — International team visits Hawaii to study volcanic impacts: local lessons, global applications

Release Date:

Hawai’i’s mid-Pacific location makes it an excellent meeting ground for globally dispersed collaborators of all kinds.

Moderate ash on corn crops from eruption of Tungurahua, Ecuador, 20...

Ashfall damages corn crop in Ecuador following an eruption of Tungurahua Volcano. Photograph courtesy of Patricio Ramon, Escuela Politécnica Nacional, Quito Ecuador

(Credit: Ramon, Patricio. Public domain.)

For the next two weeks, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) is honored to host scientists from New Zealand and Alaska who are funded in part by a joint U.S. – New Zealand Commission on Science and Technology Cooperation. The commission supports international partnerships to co-develop advances in research, science, and technology. The scientists are here to focus on the impacts of three very important and globally-relevant volcanic hazards: volcanic ash, volcanic gas, and lava flows.

The team includes USGS geologist Kristi Wallace from Alaska Volcano Observatory and her New Zealand counterparts—Graham Leonard from the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, Carol Stewart from Massey University, and Tom Wilson from the University of Canterbury—all part of an international working group on volcanic ash.

The working group's mission is to provide guidance to people, businesses, and communities facing potential impacts from volcanic ash. They work in close cooperation with the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network to understand the impacts of ash on agriculture, infrastructure, water supplies, and human health. Surprisingly, there is very little rigorous documentation of the effects of ash on these critical aspects of human activities. The New Zealand government has made it possible for the team to travel to sites of recent explosive eruptions to study how people were impacted and how they coped.

New Zealand scientists in the working group have also conducted novel laboratory experiments to examine the impact of ash-fall on common electronics like computers and air-conditioning units. Imagine, for example, a desktop computer in an enclosed chamber. Now flip the switch and blast some gritty, abrasive, slightly acidic volcanic ash of varying concentrations into the chamber to see how well the hard drive, power supply, and fan continue to function. (It turns out that they are surprisingly resilient.)

Even Kīlauea and Mauna Loa have ash-producing eruptions from time to time, and the current activity at the summit of Kīlauea occasionally sends small qualities of ash downwind. So, despite the team’s focus on recurring ash eruptions from charismatic stratovolcanoes such as Mt. St. Helens, Hawai‘i and HVO will gain something from their efforts.

The second objective of this international team is to learn about the impacts of Kīlauea Volcano's June 27th lava flow and ongoing volcanic gas emissions on people, infrastructure, and agriculture here in Hawai‘i. As Puna residents know all too well, the June 27th lava flow buried a road, destroyed one house, partially inundated a new solid-waste transfer station, and threatened utility poles. Meanwhile at the summit of Kīlauea, volcanic gas emissions continue to spread over the Island of Hawai‘i and indeed the entire state.

The scientists are also interested in how people who call the Puna District home deal with the stresses related to living on one of the world's most active volcanoes. The team will be meeting with representatives from business and government to gather insights into how communities and individuals cope with the threat of lava inundation.

Hawai‘i is a spectacular laboratory for studying the ways in which people try to live in harmony with volcanoes and other natural hazards. For two weeks, scientists will be looking for insights that they can share with other citizens of planet Earth who find themselves in similar situations.

You can find some of this information about impacts of volcanic ash on these web sites:




Volcano Activity Update

Kīlauea Activity Update

Kīlauea's summit lava lake level fluctuated over the past week, but remained well below the Overlook crater (vent) rim and out of direct view from Jaggar Museum. On the morning of June 4, the lake was about 49 m (161 ft) below the Overlook crater rim.

Kīlauea's East Rift Zone lava flow continues to feed widespread breakouts northeast of Puʻu ʻŌʻō. The active flows remain within about 8 km (5 mi) of Puʻu ʻŌʻō.

One felt earthquake was reported on the Island of Hawai'i in the past week. On Sunday, May 31, 2015 at 11:59 a.m., HST, a magnitude 3.6 earthquake occurred 14.4 km (8.9 mi) southeast of Kīlauea Summit at a depth of 8.9 km (5.5 mi).