U.K. scientist to bring 'cutting edge' to Hawaii

A scientist from the U.K., fresh from research in the Caribbean, has been awarded a fellowship by the U.S. Geological Survey to serve two years at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory. While the fellowship usually goes to American scientists, Dr. Marie Edmonds specializes in ‘cutting-edge’ monitoring technology that will benefit volcanology in the islands, as well as in the U.S.

Any institution, whether commercial, academic, or governmental, requires novel ideas to thrive. Fresh concepts come from training, sudden insights (the proverbial light bulb is turned on), hard work, and young talented staff members who bring in innovative concepts and abundant energy. Introduction of new scientists is especially vital to a research institution such as HVO. They provide an up-to-date link to the latest concepts developed at universities and help to keep older staff members aware of current developments possibly otherwise overlooked.

This week, the HVO welcomes such a new staff member: Dr. Edmonds, who was awarded a prestigious Mendenhall Postdoctoral Fellowship by the USGS. Dr. Edmonds is known for doing something that no American is currently doing, and her presence at HVO will introduce this cutting-edge technique into American volcanology. The fellowship award, despite her non-citizen status, indicates how highly her work is regarded.

Dr. Edmonds will be applying her expertise with Open-Path Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (OP-FTIR) to the development of novel ways to monitor gas emissions from Kilauea. She will be working closely with Jeff Sutton and Tamar Elias, who form the gas team at HVO.

Volcanic gas is composed of many different species; water, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide are the most common. OP-FTIR allows several different species to be detected and measured at the same time with a high degree of accuracy, so that a more nearly complete gas composition can be determined.

The methodology can be designed to operate continuously during daylight hours. Data can be radioed to HVO from a remote instrument site downwind of Pu`u `O`o. This procedure will enable a rapid assessment of changing gas compositions. The technique stands an excellent chance of becoming a part of the routine real-time monitoring now done at Kilauea.

The OP-FTIR equipment was purchased by the University of Hawai`i-Hilo through a cooperative agreement with the USGS-HVO. Thus, the new methodologies could eventually be incorporated into the training program operated by the university’s Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes.

Dr. Edmonds comes to HVO directly from the small Caribbean island of Montserrat, where she worked as a volcanologist with the British Geological Survey for three years at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO). MVO has responsibility for the monitoring of the Soufriere Hills Volcano, which is currently erupting an andesite lava dome.

During the past three years, the volcano has mostly erupted effusively at rates of 2-4 cubic meters (6.5-13 cubic feet) per second–about the same rate as lava is currently erupting from Pu`u `O`o. Occasionally, however, the volcano entered periods of explosive activity, sending eruptive columns up to 15 km (9 miles) high, with pumice fallout and ash fall up to 15 cm (6 inches) thick in inhabited areas.

Hazard and risk assessment are especially critical on Montserrat, where people live within a few kilometers of a volcano whose activity is characterized by fast-moving pyroclastic flows traveling up to 60 m/s (200 feet/second).

MVO undertakes a monitoring regime similar to that of HVO. Visual observations, seismicity, ground deformation, gas emissions and environmental monitoring are the mainstays of the operation. Dr. Edmonds’ role at MVO involved general volcanologic observations of lava dome growth, geologic mapping, sampling, hazard and risk assessment, and gas-emission monitoring.

This last task led Dr. Edmonds to develop state-of-the-art spectroscopic techniques to receive gas-emission rates every minute or so throughout the day?about as often as other modern geophysical data. This enables cross-correlations between gas emissions and, say, ground tilt or seismicity, at a time scale previously impossible. Dr. Edmonds’ work at HVO will build on this experience.

On April 28, Dr. Edmonds will talk about her experiences on Montserrat at the “After Dark in the Park” series of lectures in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. Come then to greet HVO’s newest staff member.

Activity Update

Eruptive activity at the Pu`u `O`o vent of Kilauea Volcano continued unabated during the past week. Most lava flows been at the lower end of the rootless shield complex along the Mother’s Day lava tube, at the 2200-2300-foot elevation south of Pu`u `O`o. Vents within the crater of Pu`u `O`o remain incandescent. No active flows are on Pulama pali or the coastal flat below Paliuli. No lava is entering the ocean.

Four earthquakes were felt on the island during the busy week ending early February 5. A magnitude 3.8 earthquake took place at 5:39 p.m. on February 1, located 9 km (6 miles) north-northwest of Ka`ena Point at a depth of 9 km (6 miles). It was felt from Papa Bay to Wainaku. At 7:09 a.m. on February 3, another earthquake from the same area shook residents from Volcano to Wainaku; it had a magnitude of 3.1. The next day, a resident of Honaunau felt a magnitude 2.5 earthquake at 1:23 p.m., located 6 km (4 miles) east-southeast of Ho`okena at a depth of 14 km (8 miles). At 12:19 a.m. on February 5, another magnitude 3.8 earthquake awakened residents from Papa`aloa to Waipunalei; it took place 3 km (2 miles) northwest of Kalapana at a depth of 35 km (22 miles).

Mauna Loa is not erupting. The summit region continues to inflate slowly. Seismic activity remains very low, with no earthquakes located in the summit area during the last 7 days.

Visit our website for daily volcano updates and nearly real-time earthquake information.

This article was written by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and is republished by HawaiiNews.com with permission.

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