Our Beautiful World

The Hawai'ian Volcano Observatory

This logo has been associated with the HVO since 1936; in Latin,
its logo means 'no more shall the people perish'.

In many ways, one could say tragedy was the creator of one of the most efficient
volcanological institutions worldwide. The founder of the HVO, Thomas A. Jaggar,
was a pioneering volcanologist. He saw the horrendous impacts of the 1902 eruptions of
St. Vincent and Monte Pelee, and made a binding oath - 'no more shall the people perish'.
This motto is, if you like, the HVO's 'reason to be'.

The Observatory was founded in 1912 as a laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the original observatory was sited on the rim of Kilauea caldera, but moved
in 1916. It was not until 1948 that the HVO was permanently placed under the direction
of the United States Geological Survey.

The main functions of the Observatory are monitoring, hazard assessment, and research.
The staff of the Observatory continually monitor seismic activity, ground deformation,
type and amounts of gas emissions, changes in piezoelectrical, magnetic and gravitational attraction, eruptive style, lava chemistry, and lava flow emplacement in order to provide timely information to the Hawai'i County Civil Defense and the National Park Service.
This monitoring program is aimed at tracking magma as it moves underground towards its
eruption site and in locating large earthquakes rapidly to facilitate emergency response.

The assessment of geological hazards is focused mainly on volcanic and earthquake hazards
and draws on a combination of the monitoring data and geological mapping to determine the hazard levels for different areas. These affect decisions ranging from land use and construction style to emergency preparedness. The research function at the Observatory is aimed at
developing better understanding of volcanic and earthquake processes. It is only through developing and testing new ideas about the processes that drive the volcanic system that
we can increase our ability to provide reliable and timely information to public officials and the community. Much of the research undertaken at the HVO has applications at other volcanoes.
In addition, equipment and monitoring techniques have been, and continue to be, developed
and tested here; these are deployed worldwide at dangerous volcanoes. An ideal case-study
is of the year 2000, where revolutionary tiltmeters were installed at Hawai'i. Many of the HVO staff also respond to volcanic crises worldwide as part of the USGS' Volcanc Disaster
Assistance Program, funded by the State Department.

The ultimate goal of the research program is to understand volcanic processes well enough
to be able to accurately forecast future activity. New technologies allow the HVO to determine aspects of the volcanic systems that could not have been determined in the past. An example
is the advent of the Global Positioning System (GPS) to determine the precise locations
of points on the ground. This system allows the HVO to determine rates and directions
of ground deformation in ways that simply were not possible before. Today the HVO
is applying this technology to gain an understanding of the rates, and variance through time,
of movement of the south flank of Kilauea towards the sea.

There will always be new challenges because scientists have observed the active volcanoes for only a short time compared to the geological timescale of geologic change. For example, in
historic times, there has not been an eruption along the rift zones that lasted as long as the
present one near Pu'u 'O'o. This lack of precedent for long-lived eruptions means that
scientists are constantly learning new things about how Kilauea works, but it also means that forecasts about future events are less certain than if they had more experience with similar
events. The geologic record of activity at Kilauea includes many events for which there is
only descriptive information, such as the estimated magnitude-7.9 earthquake in 1868, or only interpretation based on geologic mapping, such as the extent of the last summit overflows
and the magnitude of the large caldera-forming eruptions. To fully evaluate the hazards
posed by the active volcanoes, the HVO utilises the long-term history of events and
the current activity that they monitor.

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