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Volcano Watch: Archive now complete and inspires a new column

  • M. PATRICK/USGS photo Early evening view of the lava lake within Halemaʻumaʻu crater Jan. 30 at the summit of Kilauea Volcano, when the lake level was 27 m (88 ft) below the crater floor. The bright yellow area of spattering marks the location where the circulating lava descends into the lake, thereby releasing gases trapped beneath the solid black crust on the lake surface. The area around Halemaʻumaʻu remains closed because of ongoing volcanic hazards associated with the lava lake, including high levels of sulfur dioxide gas and unexpected rockfalls and explosions.

In November, “Volcano Watch” entered its 27th year of publication. The long history of this column is, in large part, thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and affiliates who write the weekly articles, Hawaii newspapers and online news outlets that print and post the column and you, the dedicated readers who peruse it each week.

Given the longevity of HVO’s weekly column, two milestones are noteworthy. The first might be of interest to readers who refer to the Volcano Watch archive for information.

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This past week, more than a hundred Volcano Watch articles written between 1991 and 1995, but had not been available online, were posted to the HVO website. The entire catalogue of articles now can be accessed and searched at https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/hvo_volcano_watch.html.

Starting in 1991, the articles were simply titled “Volcano Watch” and described lava flows erupting from the Kupaianaha vent, the lava pond in Pu‘u ‘O‘o and earthquakes beneath the Island of Hawaii and the Lo‘ihi submarine volcano. As activity of Kilauea waxed and waned in subsequent years, topics covered by the weekly column expanded.

Through the years, articles included insights from ongoing volcanologic research, eruption and earthquake histories of Hawaiian volcanoes, noteworthy eruptions elsewhere on Earth, tsunamis that affected the Hawaiian Islands and emerging technologies for monitoring volcanoes. HVO’s Volcano Watch archive now can serve as a starting point for anyone interested in knowing more about how volcanoes work, especially about Hawaiian volcanism.

The second milestone will likely be of interest to people who are interested in Yellowstone — its remarkable eruptive history, fascinating hot springs and geysers, earthquake activity and what is being learned by scientists who monitor and study Earth’s largest volcanic system.

On Jan. 1, a new weekly column inspired by HVO’s Volcano Watch was launched by scientists and collaborators of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. This new column — the “Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles” — is posted each Monday on the homepage of YVO’s website (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/yvo/). Like HVO’s Volcano Watch series, the YVO chronicles are peer-reviewed and edited before publication.

YVO’s new column was launched soon after Dr. Mike Poland, a former HVO staff geophysicist (2005-15) and author of several dozen Volcano Watch articles, was appointed YVO scientist-in-charge in late 2017. Poland’s enthusiasm and commitment to write about the science of volcanoes, in addition to the widespread, and often intense, public interest in the geologic activity at Yellowstone, motivated him and his colleagues to start the chronicles.

The inaugural issue of the Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles reviewed activity that occurred in Yellowstone during 2017. It was followed by an article titled, “Just what is the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory?” Topics covered by YVO’s chronicles in the weeks since include Yellowstone gas emissions, a history of Yellowstone earthquakes and what is known about the calderas in Yellowstone.

YVO scientists also are responsible for monitoring volcanic fields in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. So, in future editions of the Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles, you can expect to read about past volcanism in those states. Future articles also will address new efforts to learn more about volcanic centers and potential hazards in the western United States, as well as updates and geologic history related to Yellowstone Caldera.

HVO’s time-tested Volcano Watch and YVO’s new Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles will challenge scientists to be creative as they select subjects for these weekly columns. Readers can look forward to updated information about continuing and new volcanic activity, reports on recent discoveries, accounts of past eruptions and descriptions of monitoring techniques and what they reveal about volcanoes and potential hazards.

Stay tuned and read on.

Volcano activity updates

This past week, Kilauea Volcano’s summit lava lake level fluctuated with summit inflation and deflation, ranging about 25-34 m (82-110 ft) below the vent rim. On the East Rift Zone, the 61g lava flow remained active downslope of Pu‘u ‘O‘o, with scattered breakouts on the pali and coastal plain, but no ocean entry. The 61g flows do not pose an immediate threat to nearby communities.

Mauna Loa Volcano is not erupting. Rates of deformation and seismicity remain above long-term background levels. Small-magnitude earthquakes occurred beneath the summit caldera and upper Southwest Rift Zone at depths less than 5 km (3 mi). The rate of seismicity near the summit was slightly greater during the past week than in recent weeks. A few deeper earthquakes were scattered beneath the volcano’s flanks at depths less than 13 km (8 mi). GPS and InSAR measurements continue to show slow deformation related to inflation of a magma reservoir beneath the summit and upper Southwest Rift Zone, but rates in the past few months decreased compared to rates of the past year. No significant changes in volcanic gas emissions were measured.

No earthquakes were reported as felt in Hawaii this past week.

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Visit the HVO website (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/hvo) for past Volcano Watch articles, Kilauea daily eruption updates, Mauna Loa weekly updates, volcano photos, maps, recent earthquakes info, and more. Call for summary updates at 808-967-8862 (Kilauea) or 808-967-8866 (Mauna Loa). Email questions to askHVO@usgs.gov.

Volcano Watch (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/hvo/hvo_volcano_watch.html) is a weekly article and activity update written by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and affiliates.