East Hawaii News

HVO Reports Thefts, Vandalism of Equipment; Seeks NetQuakes Volunteers

April 26, 2013, 1:22 PM HST
* Updated April 26, 4:32 PM
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Efforts by geologists to monitor the ongoing eruption of Kilauea volcano have been hampered by thefts and vandalism of key equipment stations, the head of Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said Thursday.

Scientist-in-charge Jim Kauaihikaua said efforts in Puna to observe the inflation and deflation of the volcano “have suffered serious blows” because of the crimes.

“Within the last year, two stations that housed borehole tiltmeters – instruments that very precisely measure the slope of the ground and transmit their data to the observatory in real time – were stripped of their solar panels, batteries, and radio communication equipment,” Kauahikaua wrote in the latest edition of HVO’s weekly column Volcano Watch.

“At one site, even the tiltmeter itself was lifted out of the ground and taken,” he said. “This instrument would cost about $13,000 to replace (not counting installation costs) but it’s hard to imagine that it’s worth more than the cost of scrap metal to the thieves.”

Kauahikaua said the stolen materials are valued at more than $40,000, and when the cost of planning, installing and trying to protect the sites are factored in, the loss to taxpayers is more than $100,000.

The thefts have been reported to the Hawaii Police Department and to the FBI.

The impact on society is greater than the physical loss, he said.

“More important than the monetary cost, however, is the gap left in our deformation monitoring network on the lower east rift zone. It’s clear that we can’t continue to maintain sites in isolated, unsupervised areas.”

Kauahikaua took the opportunity to seek more community volunteers willing to take part in the US Geological Survey’s NetQuakes program to supplement HVO’s research.

The program involves the installation in yards of equipment using the Global Positioning System – usually referred to as GPS – to obtain seismic data.

Scientists said while they won’t replace the far more expensive tiltmeters, the equipment will provide additional information to help them keep track of subtle changes to the ground.

Since it use satellites, the equipment requires yards with an unobstructed view of the sky. The location must be at least 30 feet from structures and in an area that will remain undisturbed under normal circumstances.

In order to get the data back to HVO, the equipment requires locations with either good cell phone reception or line-of-sight views to Mauna Kea or Pu`u Honua`ula, a cone in the Pohoiki area, Kauahikaua said.

“The whole setup fits within a 5-foot by 5-foot area with nothing higher than the 5-foot antenna,” he said. “It would take us about half a day to install it, and we would need to service it, on average, about once per year.”

Interested members of the community can call HVO at 967-8804 for more information.

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