Volcano Watch: With a little help from our friends, Volunteers contribute to HVO’s success

(Volcano Watch is a weekly article written by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.)

Volunteers Ben Gaddis (left) and Andrew Hara (right) holding a photo of Thomas Jaggar in his gas lab in 1916. Photo courtesy of USGS/HVO

Volunteers Ben Gaddis (left) and Andrew Hara (right) holding a photo of Thomas Jaggar in his gas lab in 1916. Photo courtesy of USGS/HVO

More than 300 employees—scientists, technicians, and support staff—have worked at HVO over the past century, but the observatory could not have been as productive as it has been without the assistance of volunteers. From the expedition of Frank Perret and E.S. Shepherd in 1911 to the present day, volunteers have willingly and enthusiastically helped with many important experiments and observations at HVO.

During his 1911 expedition, Perret oversaw the construction of a wire cable suspended across Halema`uma`u Crater from which a sampling bucket and a thermal probe could be lowered. The experiment required the help of Lorrin A. Thurston, his wife, and his children to handle the cable and to relay communications from one side of the crater to the other. The Thurston family may have been HVO’s first volunteers.

In another notable experiment in 1917, Thomas Jaggar, founder of HVO, directed nine volunteers to maneuver a 200-foot long, half-inch diameter pipe into the lava lake and pull it back out two times. With each attempt, the pipe encountered increasing resistance until the pipe arched upward and would go no farther. Jaggar described the results as encountering an “impenetrable pudding” on the bottom of the lake at a depth of 50 feet.

Today, volunteers continue to provide valuable support to HVO operations. Each year, we are fortunate to have volunteer help from a number of U.S. and foreign students. After spending a few months working alongside HVO scientists, many have gone on to pursue advanced degrees and scientific careers.

But HVO volunteers are not limited to students. Nancy Ikeda, a math professor from Fullerton Community College, California, is currently here on her second stint as a volunteer in HVO’s library and photo archive. One result of her assistance is a published collection of photos documenting the effects of the 2006 Kiholo Bay earthquake.

HVO has also benefitted greatly from long-term volunteer efforts of Hawai‘i Island residents. One of the longest serving volunteers is Ben Gaddis, who first volunteered during the Mauna Ulu eruption in 1973 and continued through the Mauna Loa eruption in 1984 as much as his Hilo attorney practice would allow. In 2008, when Ben “mostly retired” as a Family Court Judge, he volunteered again for several HVO projects, involving digital preservation of old records and photos.

Ben and retired Judge Frances Wong of Honolulu teamed together to collect and scan Jaggar’s daily Record Books (1912 to 1955). He has also become quite a sleuth at finding historical images and is in the process of inventorying and annotating photographs of past volcanic activity archived at Bishop Museum, Hawaii State Archives, Lyman Museum, and the University of Hawai`i.

Another volunteer, the late Kent Warshauer, also known as the “Sugar Mill Spy,” collected old newspaper articles about Hawai`i earthquakes, eruptions, tsunamis, and other topics related to natural phenomena to augment HVO’s records. His legacy remains in the form of an entire shelf of binders filled with copies of these articles in the HVO library.

Volunteer Andrew Hara, a professional photographer from Hilo, provides invaluable assistance in HVO’s photo archive. His most recent accomplishment involved scanning and digitally cleaning many of the older prints that were part of an HVO Centennial exhibit at the East Hawai`i Cultural Center.

Marcie Frenz, a retired educator from Hilo, volunteers at HVO one to two days a week transferring data on earthquakes felt in Hawai`i from index cards to a digital database that now holds almost 10,000 records.

Volunteer work is not limited to data preservation. Long-time volunteers Frank Box of Volcano and Clyde Shiraki of Mountain View were instrumental in HVO’s recent seismic network upgrades during the last several years, which sometimes required working at remote locations on Kilauea and Mauna Loa.

We are profoundly grateful for the current and past volunteer contributions to HVO’s century of operations and research and hope that we can continue to attract residents and students to our many opportunities.

The final Volcano Awareness Month talk by HVO scientists in January will be a presentation about Kilauea’s volcanic gas emissions and vog at the Kilauea Visitor Center in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park on January 31. For more information, please visit HVO’s website at hvo.wr.usgs.gov

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