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Volcano Watch: Dear Valentine, will you be my lab partner?

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“Volcano Watch” is a weekly article and activity update written by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and affiliates. Today’s article was written by Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist Kendra J. Lynn.

The U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory on the Big Island “lavas” working with our partners at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, and for Valentine’s Day we wanted to highlight some of the things we appreciate about this relationship.

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist Baylee McDade shows students from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo petrology class how to use the scanning electron microscope to analyze minerals. Research in the scanning electron microscope lab helps the observatory and UH-Hilo better understand how and why volcanoes in Hawai‘i erupt. (USGS photo by Lis Gallant)

Faculty and students in the UH-Hilo Geology and Anthropology departments contribute to volcano monitoring and research in Hawai‘i.

Recently, seismic unrest southwest of Kīlauea’s summit alerted the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory to a new intrusion of magma that occurred throughout a three-day period. The intrusion resulted in slight changes in ground elevations and new surface cracks along the Maunaiki trail in the Ka‘ū Desert in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

UH-Hilo geology and anthropology faculty and students conducted global positioning system and leveling surveys during the past two weekends, tracking changes in the pre-existing cracks along the Koa‘e fault system south of Kīlauea’s summit. The major cracks in this area (not to be confused with the new cracks) have been monitored since 1966 using much of the same equipment we still employ today: a tape measure, a ruler 9.8 feet tall and a telescopic sighting scope.

The data collected by the group shows that the faults along the Koa‘e system were squeezed together by several inches and the ground was raised by more than a foot in some areas from the intrusion. The surveying adds specific information to help “ground truth” other monitoring datasets in the area, such as satellite, GPS and tilt.

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Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff are also committed to giving back to the UH-Hilo community through education, outreach and hands-on student research and field opportunities.

This week, observatory geologists participated in the UH-Hilo Geology Department’s petrology laboratory course to expose students to analytical techniques. Petrology is the study of what rocks are made of.

During their regularly scheduled class period, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff met with students in the scanning electron microscope laboratory housed in the Marine Science Building. For their lab assignment this week, student groups learned techniques for doing petrological monitoring and research on Hawai‘i’s active volcanoes.

Students were shown how the scanning electron microscope operates and how it can help scientists better understand the compositions of rocks and minerals from Hawaiian eruptions. Using a sample from Mauna Loa’s 1855-56 eruption, we demonstrated how energy dispersive spectrometry analysis can identify different types of minerals (olivine, plagioclase, pyroxene) based on the major elements in their chemical structure.

Students were also introduced to some new instrumentation on the scanning electron microscope called a wavelength dispersive spectrometer. This new equipment, funded by the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019, allows us to conduct standardized measurements on samples that are quantitative and comparable to other analytical technologies.

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This type of functionality was not available prior to 2019 on Hawai‘i Island.

In addition to education and outreach, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff are committed to providing student opportunities for professional development and research.

Through a cooperative agreement with the Research Corporation of the University of Hawai‘i, an undergraduate student works with observatory scientists in the lab, specifically focused on processing samples during eruptions for near-real-time geochemical monitoring. During the fall of 2023, three additional students were involved in laboratory projects supporting ongoing research on Kīlauea’s recent eruptions.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has also hosted Pacific Internship Programs for Exploring Science students in the past, and, in the future, we hope to involve the program’s interns in laboratory-based research on Kīlauea’s recent eruptions.

The lava flow around a small island, south of the inlet zone, formed a heart-shaped outline in the western portion of the lava lake in Halema‘uma‘u at Kīlauea Volcano’s summit on Feb. 11, 2021. (USGS photo by M. Patrick)

Through these various activities, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory strives to support UH-Hilo students and faculty, and this Valentine’s Day we want to express our gratitude for all of their hard work.

Volcano Activity Updates

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Kīlauea is not erupting. Its USGS Volcano Alert level is at Advisory.

Disbursed seismicity at Kīlauea’s summit and along the Koa‘e fault system southwest of the caldera continues following an intrusion of magma into the area from Jan. 31 to Feb. 1; on average, earthquake counts remain below 10 per hour. Tiltmeters near Sand Hill and Uēkahuna Bluff have recorded little change during the past week; both show mild inflationary trends.

Periods of increased earthquake activity and rates of ground deformation can be expected to continue in this region. No unusual activity has been noted along Kīlauea’s rift zones.

Mauna Loa is not erupting. Its USGS Volcano Alert Level is at Normal.

Webcams show no signs of activity on Mauna Loa. Summit seismicity has remained at low levels during the past month. Ground deformation indicates continuing slow inflation as magma replenishes the reservoir system following the 2022 eruption. SO2 emission rates are at background levels.

There were 19 earthquakes reported felt in the Hawaiian Islands during the past week, those above M3 are listed here:

  • A M3.4 earthquake 2 miles west-southwest of Pāhala at a depth of 22 miles at 7:10 p.m. Feb. 12.
  • A M3.8 earthquake 6 miles east of Pāhala at a depth of 0 miles at 4:52 a.m. Feb. 12.
  • A M3.4 earthquake 1 mile west-southwest of Pāhala at a depth of 22 mi at 10:38 a.m. Feb. 9.
  • A M3.5 earthquake 1 mile south-southwest of Pāhala at a depth of 21 miles at 10:12 a.m. Feb. 9.
  • A M3.0 earthquake 1 mile west-southwest of Pāhala at a depth of 22 miles at 10:11 a.m. Feb. 9.
  • A M5.7 earthquake 1 mile southwest of Pāhala at a depth of 22 miles at 10:06 a.m. Feb. 9.
  • A M3.1 earthquake 8 miles east-southeast of Pāhala at a depth of 0 miles at 5:17 a.m. Feb. 9.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory continues to closely monitor Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.

Visit the observatory’s website for past “Volcano Watch” articles, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa updates, volcano photos, maps, recent earthquake information and more. Email questions to [email protected].

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