Volcano Watch — Who da guy behind the HVO daily web updates?

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The Hawaiʻian Volcano Observatory website (hvo.wr.usgs.gov) gets over half-a-million visitors a month. Most of those hits are folks checking out the daily Kīlauea eruption update page that has detailed reports and spectacularly beautiful photos of active lava (when available) taken in the early morning hours.

The daily updates have been an immensely popular part of the HVO website for the last 4 years.

Alert readers of the website might wonder how large an army of staff must rotate in and out of this early morning duty to keep the reports so lively and the photos so incredible seven days a week. All are stunned to learn that these reports are the efforts of only one scientist.

Every day, Don Swanson rises at 3:00 am, checks out the eruption status from key points on the Volcano Highway, as well as down along the coast at the end of Chain of Craters Road. He may include a leisurely hike of a mile or two out on the fresh flows to get a better view. Then he returns to the office to file his report and photos on the web page before most other staff arrive at the office.

For the last 8 years, Don's day job has been the Scientist-in-Charge (SIC) of HVO. In that position, he guided the efforts of the 20 to 30 scientists and technicians who monitor Hawaiʻian volcanoes for the U.S. Geological Survey. He also delivered dozens of presentations and field trips a month to visiting scientists, school groups, and the media.

At the end of his long day, Don was rarely the first one to go home. Alert staff members have observed that Don does return home in the evenings but cannot verify that he actually sleeps before rising at 3:00 am to start his day anew.

As if that weren't enough, Don also managed to continue his own research on how Kīlauea caldera formed and the nature and frequency of the explosive eruptions that helped form it. It is through Don's work that we now know the following: in the last several thousand years, Kīlauea has erupted explosively as often as Mount St. Helens! Kīlauea has had a more peaceful public image because, in between its explosive episodes, the volcano erupts copious and photogenic amounts of lava. In between its explosive eruptions, Mount St. Helens just . . . sits.

Don is one of those scientists who have researched both volcanoes. Prior to coming to HVO, Don was stationed at what has become the Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO) in Washington State. There he directed measurements of ground deformation at Mount St. Helens, enabling the accurate prediction, hours to weeks in advance, of nearly every dome-building eruption between 1981 and 1986. He rose to the next challenge and was named SIC at CVO between 1986 and 1989 before rotating back to research.

But that's not all! The significance of Don's work in Hawai`i goes even further back in time, starting with his first tour at HVO in 1968. As luck would have it, Mauna Ulu started erupting in 1969, and Don was there. He studied aspects of the way lava flows and tubes were emplaced during the eruption. These observations were crucial to understanding flow behaviors of the ongoing eruption of Kīlauea. Don also documented the nearly continuous movement of the seaward side of Kīlauea volcano. That finding brought a new perspective to the study of other island volcanoes. Many volcanoes were found to behave similarly, and many actually showed evidence of the logical conclusion of that movement -- flank failure, where one side of the volcano slides off into the sea.

At the beginning of October, Don was able to relinquish his job as SIC of HVO and devote his considerable energy to researching Kīlauea caldera. Don't worry; he has graciously agreed to continue his popular web updates, much to the relief of the HVO staff and the delight of fans worldwide.

Volcano Activity Update

Eruptive activity at Pu`u `O`o continues. On October 20, surface flow activity, which had been sluggish for the previous two weeks, increased along the PKK tube, with a new tongue of lava descending Pulama pali. By the 21st, this lobe had reached the 1150-ft elevation. Strong glow extends up the PKK flow to about the 2300-foot elevation, indicating that there are numerous breakouts above the pali. The eruptive activity in Pu`u `O`o's crater remains weak, with several spatter cones glowing but not doing much else.

No earthquakes were reported felt on the island during the week ending October 20.

Mauna Loa is not erupting. The summit region continues to inflate slowly. Seismic activity is elevated over the past three weeks after decreasing for several weeks in early September. 95 earthquakes were recorded beneath the summit area during the ending October 20. Nearly all are 40 km (23 miles) or more deep and are the long-period type with magnitudes less than 3.