(BIVN) – The University of Hawaiʻi System is playing a vital role in the response to the volcanic eruption on Hawaiʻi Island, UH president David Lassner told to the university’s Board of Regents on June 7.
UH Hilo professors, scientists and students are providing valuable expertise and resources on multiple fronts, the university reported earlier this month in a media release, “helping government officials assess the hazards to the public and its personnel, and decide where and how to respond.”
“We are really happy that we are able to serve our community, and being able to contribute to the emergency response is also a great opportunity for our students,” said UH-Hilo Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Ken Hon. “We’ve been working for a long time to provide meaningful contributions to provide greater understanding of volcanoes on our island and it’s great to be putting that knowledge to use.”
According to UH, the university is helping in multiple areas, including:
- A team led by UH Hilo Geology Department Chair and Professor Steven Lundblad is assisting in the response to the threat to the Puna Geothermal Venture Power Plant. The group is providing precise leveling of the ground around the power plant to detect whether, and how much, the surface is rising due to the flow of magma beneath the surface. The monitoring can, among other things, alert officials if the facility is about to be compromised.
- A group of undergraduate and graduate students led by UH Hilo Geography Associate Professor Ryan Perroy are piloting unmanned aerial vehicles day and night capturing thermo and regularly imagery of the lava flows, critical information to the government agencies overseeing the eruption response.
- UH Hilo Volcanologist Cheryl Gansecki, assisted by undergraduate students, is providing real-time chemistry analysis of lava samples. The information helps government scientists determine how the lava will behave and how fast it will move.
The Hilo campus also opened its doors to the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, after the federal scientists had to evacuate their headquarters in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park due ton the summit eruption.
“UH Hilo has been a phenomenal resource for us,” said Ed Brown, the Volcano Science Center USGS associate director. “They’ve provided space, they have provided infrastructure so we can put our communications systems in and extra staff.”
“Seeing UH Hilo open up their doors to the USGS who can’t occupy their buildings right now is just really reflective, I think, of Hawaiʻi in general,” said Katherine Mulliken a geologist from the Alaska Volcano Observatory, who was born and raised on Hawaiʻi Island and is a 2012 UH Hilo graduate. “Everyone wants to help out and really come together.”
The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa also received a $119,000 federal grant to research Kīlauea eruption. From UH:
Volcanologists at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) will receive a $119,821 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to study the ongoing volcanic activity on Hawaiʻi Island. The project, Rapid: Tracking magmatic and volcanic changes in the May 2018 Kīlauea Eruption, seeks to inform why the current volcanic activity is occurring and will help to predict future eruption activity.
“Scientific data has been critical to tracking the volcanic activity on Hawaiʻi Island to minimize the threat to Puna families,” Hirono said. “This federal funding is timely and will increase the resources available to study Kīlauea’s east rift zone and gain insight into future eruptions.”
“We are extremely grateful to the U.S. National Science Foundation, UH Hilo and the USGS (United States Geological Survey) Hawaiian Volcano Observatory for funding and supporting this research into the current eruption at Kīlauea, using a range of rapid-response tools,” said Ken Rubin, principal investigator on the grant and chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at SOEST.
The project was funded through the National Science Foundation’s Rapid Research Response program, which is available for research on natural disasters and other unanticipated events.
Rubin, along with three other SOEST volcanologists, Thomas Shea, Julia Hammer and Michael Garcia, will lead the assessment of the location and movement of magma beneath the lower east rift zone of Kīlauea to provide information on the processes leading up to the fissures and eruption activity. This study will incorporate aerial imagery and samples of lava collected throughout the event by UH Hilo and the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory to inform knowledge on volcanic processes and activities in volcanic rift zones.
Additionally, the project also includes application of very short half-life natural radioactivity to look at volcanic conditions such as magma ascent rate and degassing. These need to be measured in lavas shortly after being erupted or the signal decays away.
“This eruption represents an amazing opportunity to look, really for the first time, at variations of the isotopes with eruption condition in space and time, and would simply not be possible without the sample collections in real time by USGS,” said Rubin. “Very few labs in the world can do this sort of analysis and we are lucky to be able to take advantage of this opportunity.”