“Volcano Watch,” weekly articles written primarily by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff and occasionally by USGS partners and university affiliates, was recently honored by the National Association of Government Communicators.
In its annual Blue Pencil &Gold Screen Award program, NAGC recognizes excellence in government communication products with awards in more than 40 categories. During a reception June 26 in Arlington, Va., “Volcano Watch” was awarded first place in the electronic publication category.
“Volcano Watch” dates back to November 1991, when Dave Clague, HVO’s scientist-in-charge at the time, began writing weekly articles as a way to keep Island of Hawaii residents informed about Hawaiian eruptions and earthquakes. At the time, the Pu‘u ‘O‘o eruption was in its ninth year, and lava flows had already buried much of Kalapana and the Royal Gardens subdivision on Kilauea’s southeast flank.
During the remainder of the 35-year-long eruption, “Volcano Watch” continued to be a means of disseminating information about the lava flows and related topics.
Initially, “Volcano Watch” articles were only printed in local newspapers. But starting in the late 1990s, the articles were posted online in addition to being printed in newspapers.
Today, articles from 1991 to the present are archived on HVO’s “Volcano Watch” web page (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/hvo_volcano_watch.html). “Volcano Watch” also is shared via USGS social media — Facebook and Twitter — as well as by internet news outlets.
During the 2018 Kilauea volcanic events, “Volcano Watch” was an important means of conveying information about volcanic and seismic activity that had tremendous impacts on Hawaii residents. The articles, especially those written between April and September 2018, were aimed at keeping island residents and visitors, county and state emergency managers, scientific colleagues, media (local, national and international), as well as ‘volcanophiles’ around the globe informed about hazards associated with Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone lava flows and summit caldera collapses.
The weekly “Volcano Watch” articles complemented HVO’s more formal daily updates posted online and released via the USGS Volcano Notification System (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/vns2/), a free service that sends email notices about volcanic activity to recipients who sign up for them.
In May 2018, when Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone eruption began, “hits” to the “Volcano Watch” web page jumped significantly — from a monthly average of about 3,000 to almost 36,000. Monthly visitation remained more than twice the average until early September, when the eruption ended — evidence that people looked to “Volcano Watch” as an accurate source of information.
Products entered in the 2019 Blue Pencil &Gold Screen Award competition had to be produced by or for a government organization between July 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2018 — a notable period for HVO with three-plus months of unprecedented volcanic activity on Kilauea starting in April 2018. Entries were judged on writing, content, purpose/goal, dissemination, target audience, overall impression and other criteria.
Cost effectiveness was one of the other criteria by which communication products were judged in the NAGC award program.
The cost of “Volcano Watch” includes HVO staff hours required to write, edit, revise and select/create imagery for the weekly articles. The annual cost in 2018 was estimated to be about $15,000, which amounts to about 18 cents per web page view. That cost decreases dramatically when thousands of newspaper readers and social media followers also are considered in the calculation.
Producing a weekly article can be difficult under the best of circumstances.
The summer of 2018 presented many additional challenges, with HVO staff essentially working around the clock to monitor Kilauea. Still, weekly “Volcano Watch” articles continued to be issued to help people stay informed about the activity and hazards associated with Kilauea’s largest lower East Rift Zone eruption and summit collapse in at least 200 years.
The 2019 award for “Volcano Watch” marks the second HVO product to be recognized by the NAGC. In 2018, the USGS video, “Kilauea Summit Eruption — Lava Returns to Halema‘uma‘u” (https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/gip182), received second place in the documentary category of the Blue Pencil &Gold Screen Awards.
If you’d like to know more about the history of “Volcano Watch,” visit — you guessed it! — HVO’s Sept. 30, 2010, “Volcano Watch” article (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/hvo_volcano_watch.html?vwid=39).
Volcano activity updates
Kilauea Volcano is not erupting and its USGS Volcano Alert level remains at Normal. Reflecting this level, HVO is now issuing monthly updates for Kilauea. For definitions of the alert levels, see https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/vhp/about_alerts.html.
Monitoring data for deformation have shown no notable changes in Kilauea activity during the past week. Rates of seismicity across the volcano have not significantly changed. Sulfur dioxide emission rates are low at the summit and below detection limits at Pu‘u ‘O‘o and the lower East Rift Zone.
At or near the 2018 LERZ eruptive fissures, elevated ground temperatures and minor releases of gas (steam, tiny amounts of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide) persist. These are typical post-eruption conditions and are expected to be long-term, as they were after the 1955 LERZ eruption.
The water level at the bottom of Halema‘uma‘u continues to slowly rise. HVO is monitoring the pond closely, and under the current conditions its presence in the crater has not increased the risk to public safety.
Hazards remain at the lower ERZ and summit of Kilauea. Residents and visitors near the 2018 fissures, lava flows and summit collapse area should heed Hawaii County Civil Defense and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closures and warnings. The 2018 lava flows are primarily on private property, and people are asked to be respectful and not enter or park on private property.
Mauna Loa is not erupting. Its USGS Volcano Alert level remains at Advisory. This alert level does not mean an eruption is imminent or that progression to an eruption is certain. A similar increase in activity occurred between 2014 and 2018 and no eruption occurred.
This past week, approximately 50 small-magnitude earthquakes (all less than M2.5) were detected beneath the upper elevations of Mauna Loa. Deformation measurements show continued summit inflation, consistent with supply to the volcano’s shallow magma storage system. No significant changes in volcanic gas release on the Southwest Rift Zone were measured, and fumarole temperatures there and at the summit remain unchanged.
Mauna Loa updates are issued weekly. For more information about the status of the volcano, go to https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/mauna_loa/status.html
One earthquake with three or more felt reports occurred in Hawaii this past week: a magnitude-2.8 quake 3 km (2 mi) south of Leilani Estates at 11 km (7 mi) depth at 2:01 p.m. Aug. 31.
HVO continues to closely monitor Kilauea and Mauna Loa for any signs of increased activity.
Visit HVO’s website (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/hvo) for past Volcano Watch articles, Kilauea and Mauna Loa updates, volcano photos, maps, recent earthquake info, and more. Email questions to askHVO@usgs.gov.
Volcano Watch (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/hvo_volcano_watch.html) is a weekly article and activity update written by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and affiliates.