Mendenhall Research Fellowship Program

18-18. Geophysical investigation of the 2018 eruption of Kīlauea Volcano


Closing Date: January 6, 2020

This Research Opportunity will be filled depending on the availability of funds. All application materials must be submitted through USAJobs by 11:59 pm, US Eastern Standard Time, on the closing date.


The dramatic 2018 eruption and caldera collapse at Kīlauea Volcano (Neal et al. 2019) offers arguably the best opportunity in generations to make fundamental improvements in our understanding of basaltic volcanism in Hawai`i. Furthermore, only a handful of caldera collapses have been observed anywhere on Earth in historical times, and none with the level of detail recorded at Kīlauea.

The 2018 eruption of Kīlauea was observed in unprecedented detail using a diverse array of radar satellites, GNSS receivers, borehole tiltmeters, gravimeters, seismometers, optical and thermal cameras, and uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs) which produced rich multiparametric datasets. The Volcano Science Center is seeking a postdoctoral fellow to utilize these observations to develop novel lines of investigation and research related to the 2018 eruption of Kīlauea. 

Potential research topics may include – but are not limited to – the following broad science questions:

  1. How do calderas collapse? Observations at Kīlauea’s summit in 2018 revealed protracted formation of a caldera through episodic step-like collapse concurrent with very long period (VLP) earthquakes, upwards-and-outwards ground deformation around the subsiding blocks, and (for early events) emissions of ash and gas. Investigations may include probing how the style and geometry of collapse was related to the magmatic system and/or ash emissions, how the magma storage/transport system was affected by the collapse, and comparison of events at Kīlauea with historical collapses at Fernandina, Piton de la Fournaise, Miyakejima, and other volcanoes.

  2. How did Kīlauea’s magma storage system evolve, and what caused the end of the eruption? Forecasting the end of a volcanic eruption is often more difficult than forecasting its onset. The 2018 eruption of Kīlauea ended abruptly in early August with little apparent warning. Investigations may include the interpretation of geodetic data using magma-physics-based reservoir models to analyze the changing state of Kīlauea’s magma system, and close analysis of seismicity and other observations during the final days of the eruption.

  3. How did the 2018 East Rift Zone (ERZ) dike intrusion relate to Kīlauea’s mobile south flank? Where the lower ERZ dike intruded, how it interacted with other structural features on Kīlauea, and how it related to the May 4 M6.9 earthquake are all important for understanding the overall behavior of the volcano and for assessing future hazards. Possible research questions include whether earthquake slip and afterslip were ultimately controlled by stress changes resulting from the structure of the ERZ (a repeatable process) or rather by the specific circumstances of the 2018 intrusion, and the role of the M6.9 earthquake in enabling magma flow to the lower ERZ vent and the large duration and volume of the 2018 eruption.
  4. What was the nature of the magmatic connection between the summit and eruptive vent? Caldera collapse events at Kīlauea in 2018 were followed by observations of propagating pressure pulses down the ERZ. Research topics may include using these observations to infer the properties of the magmatic connection between the summit and lower ERZ vent and the inter-relationship between processes in the lower ERZ and at the summit.

The postdoctoral fellow is expected to fully develop their own ideas, research questions, and methodologies under the guidance of the research advisors. We particularly encourage proposals that relate diverse data sets with physical models of volcanic processes.

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the Research Advisor(s) early in the application process to discuss project ideas.


Neal, C. A., S. R. Brantley, Loren Antolik, J. L. Babb, M. Burgess, K. Calles, M. Cappos et al. "The 2018 rift eruption and summit collapse of Kīlauea Volcano." Science 363, no. 6425 (2019): 367-374.

Proposed Duty Station: Moffett Field, CA

Areas of PhD: Geophysics or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Applicants must meet the qualifications for Research Geophysicist, Research Geologist, Research Statistician, Research Physicist, Research Mathematician

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above.  However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist.)

Human Resources Office Contact: Audrey Tsujita, 916-278-9395,



Kyle R Anderson

Volcano Science Center
Phone: 650-439-2561

Emily Montgomery-Brown

Research Geophysicist
California Volcano Observatory
Phone: 650-329-5227

Ingrid A Johanson

Research Geophysicist
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
Phone: 808-967-8838

Paul Okubo

Research Geophysicist
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
Phone: 808-967-8802