VOLCANO WATCH: New Scientist

January 29, 2015, 4:20 PM HST
Listen to this Article
3 minutes
Loading Audio...

Over the past several weeks, our Volcano Watch articles have highlighted the methods used by USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) scientists to monitor and distribute information about threatening lava flows, with special focus on how those methods have evolved since Kalapana was overrun by lava in 1990.


Last week, we discussed how HVO geologists monitor lava flow activity from the air and ground, and, as you may recall, a key tool used by HVO is the Global Positioning System (GPS).  Today, we are pleased to introduce HVO’s newest staff scientist, Ingrid Johanson, who is an expert in using GPS, as well as satellite radar data (InSAR), to measure motion of the ground surface in response to geologic events such as earthquakes and magma movement. 


Growing up in California’s central valley just east of San Francisco, Ingrid was no stranger to earthquakes, but it was a summer internship in geophysics that inspired her to study them. At the time, she was a UCLA undergraduate pursuing a degree in physics.  Through the internship, Ingrid discovered that geophysics could combine her love of math and physics with an appreciation for nature to help understand the processes that shape and move Earth (with the added bonus of getting outside once in a while!).


As part of her subsequent graduate research at the University of California at Berkeley, Ingrid helped to develop a technique using InSAR to map surface motion.  Her work led to new insights into how stress accumulates along faults, including the San Andreas Fault, and how that relates to the potential for future damaging earthquakes.


After earning her Ph.D., Ingrid held a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship with the U.S. Geological Survey and also worked with us at HVO, where she studied Kīlauea Volcano for several months before accepting a position at UC Berkeley as a research scientist and manager of the Bay Area Regional Deformation (BARD) network.  BARD is an array of continuously operating GPS stations that monitor surface motion across the faults that make up the Pacific-North America plate boundary around the San Francisco Bay Area.  Ingrid was responsible for processing GPS data, including high-rate and real-time GPS.  Her results are incorporated in California’s earthquake early warning system, which is designed to provide the earliest possible warning of approaching seismic waves from a potentially damaging earthquake.


Real-time deformation data are not only useful in earthquake early warning (the feasibility of which is currently being studied in Hawaiʻi), but also invaluable in assessing volcanic hazards.  During quickly emerging events, such as intrusions of magma into rift zones or shallow levels beneath the summits of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, real-time tilt and GPS positioning allow us to track the magma beneath the surface as it moves.  Ingrid’s experience in this field will bring valuable improvements to our real-time GPS capabilities.


The combination of GPS and InSAR expertise that Ingrid brings to HVO has great potential to further our understanding of volcanic and earthquake processes on Hawaiian volcanoes. With the ongoing lava flow on Kīlauea and the ever-present threat of renewed activity at Mauna Loa, Ingrid’s expertise is needed now more than ever. We are delighted to welcome her to HVO and look forward to her contributions to our monitoring efforts in the coming years.


Kīlauea activity update 

Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone lava flow remained active with breakouts scattered across the leading 3 km (2 mi) of the flow, in the area near the abandoned True/Mid-Pacific geothermal well site, and farther upslope near Puʻu ʻŌʻō. The leading tip of the flow remains active but has been sluggish for much of the past week, and was roughly 500 meters (0.3 miles) upslope of Highway 130 on Thursday, Jan. 29.

The summit lava lake level rose slightly over the past week, and was roughly 40-45 meters (130-150 ft) below the rim of the Overlook crater.

There were two earthquakes reported felt on the Island of Hawai`i in the past week. On Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 at 10:30 p.m., a magnitude-3.9 earthquake occurred 15.0 km (9.3 mi) west of Kalapana at a depth of 7.5 km (4.7 mi). On Thursday, Jan. 29, at 12:06 a.m., a magnitude-3.2 earthquake occurred 11.2 km (7.0 mi) west of Kalapana at a depth of 8.2 km (5.1 mi).


Volcano Watch is a weekly article and activity update written by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey`s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. 

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay in-the-know with daily or weekly
headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Mahalo for Subscribing


This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Big Island Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments