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The team at the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is one of several finalists nominated for the 2019 Service to America Medals.

An HVO geologist collects spatter sample at fissure 10 near the intersection of Malama and Pomaikai Streets, Leilani subdivision

These awards honor excellence in our federal workforce and are known as the “Oscars” of government service. The final winners will be announced October 16, during an awards gala at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. 

The HVO nomination states, the team "carefully monitored a large and sustained eruption of Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii and provided vital updates to protect residents, tourists and property from ash, lava, and toxic fumes." 

Starting on May 3, 2018, Hawaii’s Kīlauea Volcano erupted for more than 100 days, spewing ash, lava and toxic gases, destroying more than 700 homes and sending residents fleeing for their lives.

The USGS team worked round-the-clock operations with local authorities and emergency managers under hazardous circumstances, conducting essential scientific fieldwork and providing frequent situation reports and briefings to decision-makers about earthquake activity, lava eruptions and associated hazards.

In addition, they found creative ways to use new technology, resulting in better monitoring of volcanic activity, and more efficient communications and data sharing among scientists and emergency managers.

An excerpt from HVO geologist Matt Patrick’s USGS Volcano Watch article recollecting his first day of the 2018 lower East Rift Zone eruption

As the helicopter approached the lower East Rift Zone, we could see gas and smoke rising from the forest. Reaching Leilani Estates, we circled the source of the plume and got a clear view of lava erupting onto the surface. Large gas bubbles were bursting through viscous orange lava oozing from a fissure that had severed Mohala Street. 

An HVO geologist checks on a time-lapse camera on the rim of Halema‘uma‘u Crater. A large spatter site is active along the east margin of the lake.

With an erupting vent in a residential neighborhood, we needed to get accurate information to emergency managers right away. Circling the fissure, we transmitted GPS coordinates, along with photos and video, back to HVO staff who were communicating with Hawaiʻi County Civil Defense from the observatory. 

Around 6:30 p.m., as fissure 1 was dying, we were dropped just outside the subdivision, where we joined other HVO staff who had arrived in vehicles. The rest of that night we drove through Leilani Estates monitoring multiple enlarging steam cracks and keeping the observatory and Civil Defense updated on changes. Read more

The USGS nomination is listed under the name of the current HVO scientist in charge, Christina "Tina" Neal. Go online to learn more and vote for the People’s Choice Award.




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