The next U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Scientist-in-Charge has been named, and it’s a name that Big Island residents may be familiar with — Dr. Ken Hon.
Hon will be the 21st Scientist-in-Charge filling a position originally created by Thomas A. Jaggar, who founded HVO in 1912 and directed it until 1940.
Hon follows recent HVO Scientists-in-Charge Tina Neal (2015–20), Jim Kauahikaua (2004–15), and Don Swanson (1997–2004). As SIC, Hon will lead about 30 staff and ensure that HVO fulfills its mission to monitor the active volcanoes in Hawaii, assess their hazards, issue warnings, and advance scientific understanding to reduce impacts of volcanic eruptions.
Hon has a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado Boulder and his work has focused on petrologic studies, geologic mapping of the internal structure of large ash-flow calderas in the United States and Russia and understanding the formation and emplacement of lava flows and lava tubes. Hon was previously an HVO volcanologist from 1987 to 1990. At that time, he was researching how lava-flow inflation and shear rates affect lava-flow morphology (for example, pahoehoe and ‘a’a) and applied the concepts to assist with hazard and risk mitigation as lava flowed into Kalapana in 1990.
Hon’s work has been mentioned in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald’s “This Day in History” and he has been described as a pioneer by an HVO colleague (meaning old in only the best way, we’re sure). The Pu’u ‘O’o eruption on Kilauea’s middle East Rift Zone has been a perfect laboratory for his research, which was foundational for understanding the hazards and behavior of basaltic shield volcanoes, such as those here in Hawaii.
Hon returned to Colorado and continued working for the USGS through 1996 as part of the USGS Volcano Hazards Program. During this time, he focused on mapping extinct, large “Yellowstone-like” calderas in Arizona as well as the Caucusus Mountains of Russia (which changed from being the USSR during fieldwork there). These calderas were uplifted and eroded to expose 1 to 2 miles of their interior workings, allowing Hon to study the tops of what was their magma chambers.
Hon and his wife, Cheryl Gansecki (also a volcanologist). returned to Hawaii in 1996. From 1997 to 2020, Ken was a professor in the geology department at the University of Hawaii at Hilo (UH-Hilo), where he taught courses in volcanology, geology of the Hawaiian Islands, volcanoes and earthquakes, volcano monitoring, petrology, and mineralogy. Gansecki created widely viewed educational films on Kilauea’s eruptive activity, and also teaches geology at UH-Hilo. Some of their previous UH-Hilo students even work at HVO now.
In 2018, Hon’s depth of experience with Hawaiian volcanism and hydrothermal activity led him to be chosen to serve on Gov. David Ige’s panel that oversaw the safe shutdown of the Puna Geothermal Venture’s power plant during Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone eruption.
During his final three years at UH-Hilo, Hon served as vice chancellor of Academic Affairs, where he oversaw academic and research operations at the university and led initiatives to create a new degree in Aeronautical Science and start preparations for a degree in data science.
His background in volcanology, research, education, and administration will be invaluable as HVO navigates the construction of a new USGS HVO research center in Hilo and a new HVO field station in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Both facilities will be shared with the USGS Pacific Islands Ecolosystems Research Center (PIERC).
Hon will lead a new generation of HVO scientists, which includes numerous new permanent USGS hires over the past year: Deputy Scientist-in-Charge David Phillips; geologists Mike Zoeller, Drew Downs, Kendra Lynn and Natalia Deligne; geophysicists Ninfa Bennington, Andi Ellis and Art Jolly. Michelle Coombs, acting director of the USGS Volcano Science Center, which oversees all five USGS volcano observatories, said, “We are pleased to have Ken formally re-join HVO to lead it through what will be an exciting few years, with new staff members and a new building on the horizon.”
With Kilauea and Mauna Loa at elevated alert levels, a new eruption in Halema‘uma‘u at Kilauea’s summit, new employees, and new HVO buildings on the horizon, Hon has hit the ground running as HVO’s new Scientist-in-Charge. Please join us in welcoming Hon back to HVO.
Visit https://www.usgs.gov/observatories/hawaiian-volcano-observatory 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.