Volcano Watch: Electronic ‘doctor’ tracks health of monitoring stations

  • A volcano-monitoring station “health monitor” developed by CJ Moniz at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO). It consists of three programmable circuit boards (bottom row), voltage sensors (top row), a current sensor (top right corner), and a custom-made voltage sensor for a 48VDC system (tan circuit board on the bottom right). This unit is deployed in a watertight box to help the electronics withstand harsh environmental conditions. USGS photo.

As part of Volcano Awareness Month earlier this year, “Volcano Watch” featured five articles focused on different roles at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO). These articles described the roles of “geodesist,” “Scientist-in-Charge,” “gas geochemist,” “seismologist,” and “geologist.” This month, we continue that series, focusing on the role of “technician.”

Technicians at HVO engineer and maintain the network of stations that monitor the active volcanoes in Hawaii. In the lab, HVO technicians work with scientists to develop technologies and to engineer components needed for volcano monitoring. In the field, technicians install new stations and maintain existing stations, ensuring that essential volcano-monitoring data are collected and transmitted back to HVO for scientific analysis.

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HVO technicians utilize a diverse range of tools, instruments, power and communication systems. HVO technicians are also masterful “MacGyvers.” For example, during Kilauea’s 2018 eruption, one HVO technician was able to rapidly perform an emergency electronic repair of seismic data acquisition systems (Great Scott!) that allowed the seismic stations to continue to gather and transmit valuable data back to HVO at a time of critical need.

This week’s article focuses on HVO technician “CJ” Moniz and his development of a tool that measures and tracks the “health” of volcano-monitoring stations.

Have you ever opened the door to a doctor’s waiting room to see all the people waiting ahead of you? Sniffing, coughing, needing a few stitches, or a vaccine, you can’t help but realize how important it is to stay healthy (especially now). Sometimes it feels that way for CJ, a physical science technician at HVO who cares for his electronic “patients”— volcano-monitoring stations — all over Hawaii Island. Through technology and ingenuity, CJ keeps ­­­HVO’s monitoring stations happy and healthy, minimizing the time his patients spend in the waiting room.

HVO has more than 240 stations in its monitoring networks on the Big Island. The stations measure and record earthquakes, ground movement, volcanic gases, sound waves, lava advancement, magma volume below ground, and visual changes in eruptive activity. These stations continuously transmit data to HVO, where they are processed by specialized computer programs and analyzed by scientists.

Since these instruments provide HVO with continuous information on the vital systems of our volcanoes, it’s important that these stations operate at optimal levels and without disruptions. But things can go wrong. Batteries can fail. Instruments can quit working. Radios can stop transmitting. All of which and more can result in data not being collected or transmitted to HVO.

To minimize data disruptions, CJ developed a station “health monitor.” These monitors are installed at major monitoring network hubs. The monitors transmit data to HVO so that every morning CJ can see how the stations are functioning and track their performance over time. The monitors provide information on station voltage, current, data transmission rates, and some even provide weather/atmospheric data.

These monitors are made at HVO, using hobby boards, single board computers (SBC) and bits of pieces of electronics so they aren’t expensive. These monitors were also carefully designed to draw minimal power. The design has been modified and fine-tuned over the five years that they have been in use, to make them more efficient and effective.

Because of this technology, CJ and the other HVO technical staff can see trends and take appropriate actions (remotely sometimes) to “cure” a “sick” station. As one example, CJ’s monitoring system recently indicated that a station was suffering from a decline in voltage, probably due to the wet weather our island has been experiencing. Based on his diagnosis, the technical team at HVO was able to visit the site and change out the battery system before the station went offline. This state of health monitoring system, combined with proactive maintenance, ensured that there was no loss of data and no interruption of service from this station.

This strategic approach to network health monitoring and proactive station maintenance, made possible by the know-how, hard work and creativity of CJ and other HVO technicians, keeps HVO’s data streams healthy and strong in order to provide scientists with the most up to date and complete information possible.

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Visit https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/hvo for past Volcano Watch articles,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 is a weekly article and activity update written by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and affiliates.

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