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Note to Editors: In the public interest and in accordance with FAA regulations, the USGS is announcing this low-level airborne project. Your assistance informing the local communities is appreciated. 

Helicopter with geophysical survey loop deployed below
Helicopter with geophysical equipment loop deployed below it via slingload arriving to land. 

KILAUEA – Starting around July 5, for approximately three weeks, a low-flying helicopter will begin collecting data to help mitigate future lava flow hazards as part of new U.S. Geological Survey research. 

The helicopter will occasionally be visible to residents in the District of Puna in the County of Hawai‘i, on the Island of Hawai‘i.  

“We understand that helicopter noise can be disruptive, so we will greatly appreciate affected residents' patience and understanding as we collect this extremely important data to help mitigate future eruption hazards,” said USGS research geophysicist Carol Finn. 

The helicopter will fly in air space over Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (HVNP), Hawaii State lands and Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate lands of the Kīlauea volcano. The survey aircraft will not fly over or collect any data over residential areas or other regions excluded by Federal Aviation Administration regulations or HVNP policies. Experienced pilots specially trained and approved for low-level flying will operate the aircraft. All flights will occur during daylight hours and are coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure accordance with U.S. law.  

The project will use a large, oval-shaped wire loop suspended 100 feet beneath a helicopter that will fly over most of the volcano. The loop assembly will fly between 115 and 165 feet above the ground or treetops. A small sensor will also measure magnetic field strength. None of the instruments pose a health risk to people or animals. 

The geophysicists overseeing the current project have successfully used the technique to map other U.S. volcanoes in Yellowstone, the Cascades and Alaska.  

“Our hopes are high that we will be able to image the shallow magma system in detail near the surface and link to deep sensing data to produce a picture of the entire magmatic system of Kīlauea,” said Finn. 

The final products of this survey will be made public within a few years. 

During the helicopter flights over the summit of Kīlauea, in HVNP on July 11, flight conditions permitting, a USGS scientist will be at the Uēkahuna Overlook to answer questions. A scientist will also be available on July 7 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Pahoa Community Center located at 15-3022 Kauhale Street, Pahoa. 

If you have questions about this project, please contact Jim Kauahikaua, a USGS Project investigator at: or

This project is funded by the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 (H.R. 2157). The USGS has special use permits from the National Park Service to conduct the work within HVNP. 

More information is available at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory project website and in a recent Volcano Watch article.  


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