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2019 Kīlauea Disaster Supplemental Funding: Eruption Response, Geodesy

Through the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 (H.R. 2157), the USGS received Supplemental funding to support recovery and rebuilding activities in the wake of the 2018 Kīlauea volcano eruption. As part of eruption response bolstering, USGS is hardening and augmenting the HVO geodetic monitoring instrumentation and network.

direction of motion measured by GPS stations
Black arrows indicate the amount and direction of motion measured by GPS stations in HVO's monitoring network during the October 2015 slow slip event. Arrow lengths correspond to the amount of motion at each station (see scale at bottom of map); arrow points show the direction the stations moved. Color indicates topography, from sea level (green) to 4,000 feet elevation (brown). The ocean is shown in blue.

HVO will restore and harden its network of real-time monitoring instruments at the summit and in critical areas along the rift zones to support early detection of magma movement and more accurate and timely characterization of hazards to Island of Hawai‘i communities and Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.  Instruments lost in the eruption will be replaced, other parts of the network will be modernized, and new instruments will be added. Data from a suite of instruments measuring multiple parameters are required to provide the best warnings and forecasts of eruptive activity.  Seismometers, GPS/GNSS, tiltmeters, gas sensors, and gravimeters are needed to assess the state of the volcano.  Thermal and visual camera systems will enable HVO to monitor surface activity at the summit and lower East Rift Zone and neighboring Mauna Loa. HVO will restore and improve its capability to detect gases coming from magma rising into the system. 

Geodetic Monitoring 

Activity Description/Goal: 

Harden and augment HVO geodetic monitoring network and instrumentation to detect, assess and respond to eruptive activity. 

Color photograph of scientist in field
The current eruption is confined to Halemaʻumaʻu crater within Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park but data from tiltmeters and Global Positioning System (GPS) stations show contraction in the upper portion of the East Rift Zone (an area between Kīlauea’s summit and Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō). Similar instruments in down-rift areas, including the site of the 2018 eruption, are stable and do not show motion associated with either inflation or contraction. Recently, instruments at the summit have shown motions consistent with slight inflation. HVO interprets this as indicating that magma from the contracting portion of the East Rift Zone is flowing back to the summit reservoirs, where the eruption is occurring. The patterns of deformation could also be influenced by the decrease in the amount of lava erupted from the western fissure, and the draining of lava into the now submerged northern fissure vent. The signal is small and preliminary modeling shows it to be a small amount of magma returning to the summit. While magma from the summit reservoirs drained into the East Rift Zone to feed fissure eruptions in the lower East Rift Zone in 2018, there is no seismic or deformation data to indicate any changes have occurred in Kīlauea volcano’s lower East Rift Zone. No new hazards are expected as a result of this activity. This photo, taken on December 22, 2020, shows an HVO geophysicist installing a new Global Positioning System (GPS) station on the portion of Kīlauea's caldera that down-dropped during the 2018 summit collapse. The summit eruption plume is visible in the background. USGS photo by K. Kamibayashi.

Key Successes/Outcomes:  

  • ~16 sites hardened with new Septentrio PolarX5 GNSS receivers purchased by supplement 

  • 2 sites with new choke ring GNSS antennas purchased by supplement 

  • Established robust cache of GNSS receivers and antennas for rapid eruption-response deployments and overall network hardening as personnel resources permit. 

  • The full, annual GPS surveying campaigns were completed for Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes, and the Deformation Team effectively responded to the 2020 Kilauea eruption through remote monitoring and rapid deployments at 3-4 new semi-continuous sites using equipment purchased by the supplemental award. The CALM gravimeter was also re-installed in the Halema’uma’u crater.  

  • HVO's Geodetic project continues to present evolving current and recent data patterns and modeled sources of deformation to observatory staff, National Park personnel, and scientific colleagues through various briefings and meetings.