Volcano Watch — JASON at Kīlauea

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The U.S. Geological Survey has been working with the JASON Project, which began filming this past Monday in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, to produce a series of interactive, live, educational broadcasts aimed at classes from upper elementary grades to high school. 

The U.S. Geological Survey has been working with the JASON Project, which began filming this past Monday in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, to produce a series of interactive, live, educational broadcasts aimed at classes from upper elementary grades to high school. The theme this year is "Island Earth Expedition to Hawaii" which focusses on the formation of the Earth and its unique ability to sustain life. The "island" concept applies to Earth in the space, Hawaii on Earth, and micro-habitats on Hawai'i. Each broadcast is one hour long and devotes about half an hour to the geology of Hawaii. The broadcasts are sent via satellite to special PINS, or Primary Interactive Network Sites, around the United States, Bermuda, and the United Kingdom.

The staff of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory will participate in each of the 60 hours of live broadcasts. Different scientists demonstrate different volcano monitoring techniques in each hour of production. In this way, we can continue all of our monitoring programs during production and can emphasize the range of work we do. In addition, because of the number of people involved with production and the location of the broadcast facilities, we provide detailed hazards monitoring of the active flows at the end of Chain of Craters Road, where the JASON production site is set up. Our hazards assessments are reported to National Park Service officials who are responsible for the safety of the JASON operation.

Each production day begins at about 3:00 a.m., when everyone involved with the first show must depart from Volcano Village or the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in order to arrive at the production site at the coast by 4:00 a.m., to check in with National Park Service rangers, with JASON Project personnel, and with our U.S. Geological Survey on-site coordinator, Leslie Gordon. The first show starts at 5:00 a.m. and is followed by shows at 6:30 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 9:30 a.m., and 11:00 a.m.

The first show is done before daybreak and features the use of an infrared video camera from a helicopter to look at the distribution of active lava flows and the locations of lava tubes within the flow field. U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Jim Kauahikaua does an overflight each morning and narrates the video. The observations he makes are combined with an on-the-ground assessment made by a geologist on our staff, who then provides the morning hazards assessment to the National Park Service; they, in turn notify JASON Project peronnel on the ground. On a typical day, Dr. Kauahikaua provides commentary on overnight changes in lava flow activity and the activity in the lava pond inside the Pu'u 'O'o cone during the first three shows. Dr. Kauahikaua uses the infrared video to develop detailed maps of the underground tube systems in the flow field and to map the extent of new surface flows each day. The geologist on the ground is also featured in our segment during the first two broadcasts at 5:00 and 6:30 a.m..

Starting with the third show at 8:00 a.m., the U.S Geological Survey scientist (a seismologist, a gas chemist, or another geophysicist) describes the work he or she does and how it relates to other monitoring work at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, or to programs within the Branch of Volcanic and Geothermal Processes in the U.S. Geological Survey. The scientists may also do a brief demonstration of equipment used to monitor the flows, measure movement of the ground surface, detect earthquakes, or sample and analyze volcanic gases. Each spends about five minutes on the show with the host geologist, Steve Mattox. By the end of the first week of broadcasts, about a dozen of the scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory will have appeared in the shows.

When the final show is done, geologists on our staff again evaluate any potentially hazardous changes in the lava activity and report to National Park Service rangers, who relay our assessment to the JASON Project. After all the staff have returned to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, we have a brief discussion of the day's activities and how we can improve our "performance" the following day, in order to provide a better look at what we do, and why and how we do it.

We also work with the on-site students, or argonauts, and their teachers after the broadcast day is done to give them a more in-depth look at the techniques we use to monitor the eruption. On Thursday afternoon, we led the group on a field trip through the active lava flows near the coast and discussed what the different types of lava tell us about the eruption. With their help, we also did an experiment to sample and analyze gases in the steam plume at the ocean entries. On Friday, we gave the group a tour of the Observatory and led them on a field trip to look at and discuss the geology of the summit caldera of Kīlauea Volcano.