Volunteerism alive and well at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

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For many students and scientists in the United States and abroad looking to gain experience in the physical sciences or wanting to take a break between schools and jobs, volunteering at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is an appealing opportunity.

This is a photo of a USGS volunteer measuring surface electrical conductivity to deduce subsurface lava distribution.

USGS volunteer measuring surface electrical conductivity to deduce subsurface lava distribution near Pu`u `O`o.

(Public domain.)

There is plenty of geologic activity with the ongoing eruption of Kīlauea, the restless behavior of Mauna Loa, and strong earthquakes like those that occurred just three weeks ago.

The study of active volcanoes and earthquakes involves many areas in which to get hands-on experience and learn new things - geology, electrical engineering, chemistry, information technology, geophysics, surveying, communication, and Hawaiian history and geography.

The Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park is also an ideal setting in which to live during the three months that most people spend lending a hand to the observatory. Some find Hawai`i and the observatory to their liking so much that they volunteer for a year or longer.

Hawai`i residents also volunteer, contributing their time, energy, and expertise over many years, working in the library, building electrical components, servicing and maintaining instruments across the island, and helping with all sorts of jobs that keep the observatory running and advance scientific studies.

During the past 25 years, more than 400 volunteers have made their mark. In the past decade, they contributed at least 10,000 hours a year. On a typical day, 5-10 work at the observatory; during an average year, 25-35 different people volunteer their services.

With the constantly changing activity of Hawai`i's volcanoes, the observatory benefits tremendously from so many talented volunteers. In addition to specific goals they help to achieve, they sustain the observatory's capability and flexibility in responding quickly to changing events.

For example, following the strong M6.7 and M6.0 earthquakes on October 15, volunteers spread across the island to help photograph, document, and archive the immediate effects to buildings, houses, roads, and the ground. They also participated in a GPS survey on the flanks of Hualālai Volcano to document ground changes that might have been caused by the earthquakes; the data are still being analyzed at this time.

When it became clear earlier this year that the long-term pattern of subsidence at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano had changed to uplift, volunteers were at the ready to help with time-consuming but accurate surveys across the summit area. By comparing the surveys from previous years, we've learned that the summit is rising at a rate of about 10 cm (4 inches) per year. This uplift reverses a 23-year-long trend of subsidence that began with the eruption of Pu`u `O`o in 1983.

Volunteers also help to launch new projects from the ground level, providing the enthusiasm, time, and plain hard work often necessary to start new work. Volunteers have initiated new Web sites, helped design and install new telemetry systems for retrieving data from field instruments, and created database applications for a variety of purposes.

Like all successful relationships, volunteers also benefit from their experience at the observatory. One former volunteer who is now working at another volcano observatory six years later said,

"While I was a volunteer at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory I learned new skills, and I met internationally known scientists, locals, National Park officials and current or recently graduated students from all over the world, all while living in a pretty fantastic place."

"Over the course of three months at HVO, I formed professional and personal relationships that helped me greatly along my career path of choice. I still maintain those relationships today. I learned that I favored the cooperative atmosphere of an observatory setting, appreciated the academic nature of impromptu talks and visiting scientists, and felt a direct responsibility in accomplishing the overall goals set forth for the entire staff at HVO."

The observatory staff thanks all who have contributed their time, energy, and ideas to our work and takes pride in watching volunteers grow personally and professionally from their experience in Hawai`i.

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Volcano Activity Update

This past week, activity levels at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano have remained at background levels. The number of earthquakes located in the summit area is low (usually less than 10 per day that are large enough to locate). Widening of the summit caldera, indicating inflation, continues at slow rates over the past few weeks.

Eruptive activity at Pu`u `O`o continues. On clear nights, glow is visible from several vents within the crater. Lava is fed through the PKK lava tube from its source on the southwest flank of Pu`u `O`o to the ocean. About 1 kilometer south of Pu`u `O`o, the Campout flow branches off from the PKK tube. The PKK and Campout tubes feed two widely separated ocean entries, at East Lae`apuki and East Ka`ili`ili, respectively. Both entries are located inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

In the last week, intermittent breakouts from the Campout tube have been scattered from the 200-to-400-ft elevation.

Access to the sea cliff near the ocean entries is closed, due to significant hazards. The surrounding area, however, is open. 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 five earthquakes beneath Hawai`i Island reported felt within the past week. A magnitude-1.9 earthquake occurred at 9:47 a.m. H.s.t. on Saturday, October 28, and was located 4 km (3 miles) east of Waimea at a depth of 2 km (1 mile). A magnitude-3.6 earthquake occurred at 6:24 p.m. on Monday, October 30, and was located 10 km (6 miles) southeast of Waimea at a depth of 12 km (8 miles).

Three of the five were aftershocks of the October 15 magnitude-6.7 earthquake and were reported felt. They ranged in magnitude from 2.6 to 3.4, and depths to 42 km (26 miles). The aftershocks continue. The aftershocks continue to decrease in number.

Mauna Loa is not erupting. During the past week, earthquake activity remained low beneath the volcano's summit (one earthquake was located). Extension of distances between locations spanning the summit, indicating inflation, continues at slow rates.