Categorized | Featured, Sci-Tech, Videos, Volcano

Volcano Watch: Hawaiian volcanoes are in the spotlight

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Time-lapse movie of Pu‘u ‘O‘o Crater

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

In 1987, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), over 400 Earth scientists from around the world gathered in Hilo for the week-long “Hawaii Symposium on How Volcanoes Work.” The purpose of the meeting was to discuss volcanic activity across the globe, including the hazards of volcanic eruptions and strategies for volcano monitoring. The conference was a resounding success, resulted in several research volumes, and stimulated new studies in Hawai`i and elsewhere.

This year, on the occasion of HVO’s 100th anniversary, the volcano-research spotlight will return to Hawai`i as over 180 scientists gather in Waikoloa during August 20-24, 2012, for the conference “Hawaiian Volcanoes: From Source to Surface.”

The meeting is a Chapman Conference hosted by the American Geophysical Union, one of the largest organizations of Earth and space scientists in the world. Chapman conferences are small meetings designed to encourage in-depth examination of specialized topics, which is not possible in larger scientific gatherings.

HVO’s centennial provides an excellent backdrop for the meeting. It is no exaggeration to say that the conference this week is a direct result of Thomas A. Jaggar’s work in founding HVO on the rim of Kilauea Caldera in 1912. Now, 100 years later, we have an opportunity to review what we have learned during the past century of volcano observation in Hawai`i, identify problems in volcanological investigations, and find solutions that enable a better understanding of Hawaiian volcanoes.

Unlike the 1987 conference, scientists attending the meeting this week will focus specifically on Hawai`i. The topics are not limited to volcanic activity at or near the Earth’s surface, but instead will span a range of levels, tracing magma from its formation deep within the Earth, through its ascent and storage within a volcano, to its eruption of lava and gas at the surface.

The final day of the conference will be devoted to the future of volcano research in Hawai`i. Scientists will assess the important questions that remain about how Hawaiian volcanoes work and the data that are needed to answer those questions. Volcanologists from Tasmania to Italy, from students just beginning their careers to distinguished senior scientists, will participate in the meeting, and both HVO and the University of Hawai`i are well-represented.

While the conference is based around numerous scientific presentations, each day will also include small group discussions among geologists, geochemists, and geophysicists. In addition, one day of the meeting will be devoted to field trips that will take scientists to every volcano on the Island of Hawai`i, from Kilauea to Kohala, allowing the attendees to visit world-class volcanic deposits and discuss volcanological problems outside the conference hall.

There are numerous Earth-science meetings every year, but the specific focus on Hawai`i will enable scientists to identify the most important research questions about how Hawaiian volcanoes work. New research collaborations will also form among participants who would not otherwise have a chance to interact.

Participation by students and young scientists is another important meeting goal. Conversations among researchers early in their careers and scientists who have been working in Hawai`i for decades will surely inspire the next generation of Hawai`i volcanologists. For these reasons, the conference has received the support of the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation, and the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior.

In future columns, we will describe some of the new ideas that come from the “Hawaiian Volcanoes: From Source to Surface” conference. In the meantime, be on the lookout for volcanologists as you travel about the island this week!

Figure Caption: A conference this week in Waikoloa will examine how Hawaiian volcanoes work, from their source deep within the Earth to the eruption of gas and lava at the surface. The conference is hosted by the American Geophysical Union and organized by scientists from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and the University of Hawai`i at Hilo.

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