Volcano Watch — Staff Changes at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

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Late last week geophysicist Michael Lisowski and his family left Hilo for Vancouver, Washington, and the Cascades Volcano Observatory. 

Late last week geophysicist Michael Lisowski and his family left Hilo for Vancouver, Washington, and the Cascades Volcano Observatory. For the past six years, Mike headed the surface deformation group at HVO and was responsible for revitalizing the program by establishing continuously measuring GPS, strain, and electronic tilt networks on Kīlauea and Mauna Loa Volcanoes and by displaying the data in near real-time.

Mike came to HVO from the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program in Menlo Park, California, where he was involved with monitoring crustal deformation in seismic zones throughout the West and Alaska. Strain changes along faults are smaller and the rate of change is much slower than on volcanoes, so Mike was elated to transfer to HVO, not to mention that he is also an avid surfer.

Mike brought knowledge of the latest surface deformation-monitoring techniques with him and quickly established them at HVO and the rest of the volcano-monitoring community. He hosted a conference in Hilo of the leading U.S. scientists involved with ground-deformation research to formulate a plan for the USGS Volcano Hazards Program. The results of that conference in 1996 are readily evident throughout the volcano world today.

Networks of continuously measuring GPS receivers and electronic tiltmeters are now commonly found on volcanoes that are monitored. Volumetric strainmeters or dilatometers, which were recently installed on Mauna Loa, are examples of another real-time monitoring instrument becoming a standard because of the Hilo conference convened by Mike. Remote sensing, primarily the comparison of satellite images of the same ground area taken at different time intervals, is another surface deformation detection method discussed at the conference that is starting to be used to monitor some of the world's volcanoes, including Mauna Loa.

Monitoring techniques were not the only topics at the Hilo conference. Methods of modeling and interpreting the deformation data were also discussed. Details of what causes the deformation can best be determined by the use of computer modeling methods. Collaborating with USGS and university colleagues, Mike is hoping to develop an eruption-forecasting methodology based upon the combination of daily surface-deformation changes and seismic activity. Someday we may pick up the newspaper to check the volcano forecast along with the weather forecast.

As busy as he was at work, Mike also found time to be a coach and referee in the AYSO soccer program and to be one of Hilo's best marathon runners. He was very involved in the activities of Waiakeawaena School, where his three sons went to school and where his wife was a teacher. But his passion was the right break at Honoli`i Point at sunrise.

We at HVO will miss Mike and his family, but Mike has not cut all of his ties with us, for he will be back for a short visit in late September and will continue to work on HVO projects while at the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver. No replacement for Mike has been selected, but we are actively seeking another deformation expert.

On a brighter note, a new era started at the Observatory this past week when Stuart Koyanagi, the son of retired HVO seismologist Robert Koyanagi, followed in his father's footsteps and became a member of HVO's staff as a seismologist. Stuart transferred to HVO from the USGS National Earthquake Information Center in Denver, Colorado, where he was responsible for the daily operations of the seismic group. We welcome Stuart to the HVO family and look forward to his many years here. It feels good to have a local boy come home.

Volcano Activity Update

The eruption of Kīlauea Volcano continued during the past week. Lava is erupting from Pu`u `O`o and flowing through a network of tubes to the coast near the eastern boundary of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Breakouts from the lava tubes feed flows on Pulama pali and on the coastal flats. Since August 13, lava has been also breaking out above the pali at the 2,250 ft elevation. Lava is entering the ocean at two main locations: near the site of the buried Waha`ula heiau and 1.2 km (0.7 mi) to the west at Kamokuna. Several smaller entries, to the east of Waha`ula, are weak and ephemeral. The public is reminded that the ocean-entry areas are extremely hazardous, with explosions accompanying sudden collapses of the new land. The active lava flows are hot and in places have a very thin crust. The steam clouds are highly acidic and laced with glass particles.

There were no felt earthquakes on the island during the past week.