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Hawaiian Volcano Observatory monitors volcanoes, earthquakes in Hawaii

March 25, 2014 - 12:05am

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is one of five volcano observatories within the U.S. Geological Survey and is responsible for monitoring volcanoes and earthquakes in Hawaii.

The observatory, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012, was initially funded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a group of Honolulu merchants and has been a U.S. government facility since 1919, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was founded Geologist by Thomas A. Jaggar, who recognized the need for communicating volcano and earthquake information to the public.

The U.S. Weather Bureau managed it until 1924 when the USGS took over operations between 1925 and 1935 followed by the National Park Service between 1935 and 1947, according to the USGS. The USGS has managed the facility since 1947.

The observatory, since 1987 located at the rim of Kilauea Volcano’s summit caldera within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, monitors the volcanic and seismic activity of Hawaiian volcanoes, including Kilauea and Mauna Loa — two of the world’s most active volcanoes.

The observatory has been at the forefront of developing and applying the modern techniques and instruments now used in volcano monitoring, including volcanic-gas monitoring, satellite-based deformation measurements, networks of remote cameras recording eruptive activity and seismic networks, according to the USGS.

Assessing volcanic and seismic hazards is a critical part of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory mission. With more than 200 homes damaged by lava flows or earthquakes during the past three decades, the observatory’s scientists play an important role in ensuring the safety of residents and visitors alike, according to the USGS.

The scientists do this by providing timely volcano and earthquake hazard data to the Hawaii County Civil Defense and other public safety agencies, according to the USGS.

The scientists also produce a weekly column to keep the public up to date with volcano and earthquake information. “Volcano Update” runs every Sunday in West Hawaii Today and is available online at