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The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory: A natural laboratory for studying basaltic volcanism

January 1, 2015

In the beginning of the 20th century, geologist Thomas A. Jaggar, Jr., argued that, to fully understand volcanic and associated hazards, the expeditionary mode of studying eruptions only after they occurred was inadequate. Instead, he fervently advocated the use of permanent observatories to record and measure volcanic phenomena—at and below the surface—before, during, and after eruptions to obtain the basic scientific information needed to protect people and property from volcanic hazards. With the crucial early help of American volcanologist Frank Alvord Perret and the Hawaiian business community, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) was established in 1912, and Jaggar’s vision became reality. From its inception, HVO’s mission has centered on several goals: (1) measuring and documenting the seismic, eruptive, and geodetic processes of active Hawaiian volcanoes (principally Kīlauea and Mauna Loa); (2) geological mapping and dating of deposits to reconstruct volcanic histories, understand island evolution, and determine eruptive frequencies and volcanic hazards; (3) systematically collecting eruptive products, including gases, for laboratory analysis; and (4) widely disseminating observatory-acquired data and analysis, reports, and hazard warnings to the global scientific community, emergency-management authorities, news media, and the public. The long-term focus on these goals by HVO scientists, in collaboration with investigators from many other organizations, continues to fulfill Jaggar’s career-long vision of reducing risks from volcanic and earthquake hazards across the globe.

This chapter summarizes HVO’s history and some of the scientific achievements made possible by this permanent observatory over the past century as it grew from a small wooden structure with only a small staff and few instruments to a modern, well-staffed, world-class facility with state-of-the-art monitoring networks that constantly track volcanic and earthquake activity. The many successes of HVO, from improving basic knowledge about basaltic volcanism to providing hands-on experience and training for hundreds of scientists and students and serving as the testing ground for new instruments and technologies, stem directly from the acquisition, integration, and analysis of multiple datasets that span many decades of observations of frequent eruptive activity. HVO’s history of the compilation, interpretation, and communication of long-term volcano monitoring and eruption data (for instance, seismic, geodetic, and petrologic-geochemical data and detailed eruption chronologies) is perhaps unparalleled in the world community of volcano observatories. The discussion and conclusions drawn in this chapter, which emphasize developments since the 75th anniversary of HVO in 1987, are general and retrospective and are intended to provide context for the more detailed, topically focused chapters of this volume.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2014
Title The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory: A natural laboratory for studying basaltic volcanism
DOI 10.3133/pp18011
Authors Robert I. Tilling, James P. Kauahikaua, Steven R. Brantley, Christina A. Neal
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Professional Paper
Series Number 1801
Index ID pp18011
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Hawaiian Volcano Observatory; Volcano Hazards Program; Volcano Science Center