VOLCANO WATCH: Ten Years with Mike Poland

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In the 10 years since Mike Poland joined the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff, he has accomplished a tremendous amount of research, mentored a vast number of students and young researchers, forged close friendships and warm collegial relationships at HVO, and spent considerable time trying to instill in us an appreciation for hockey.  So it is hard to accept that he will be leaving us later this month when he returns to the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington.

Mike came to HVO to focus on deformation–changes in the shape of a volcano resulting from magma movement and earthquakes–particularly in how those changes can be measured with satellite radar (InSAR).  He quickly realized, however, that volcano monitoring requires cross-disciplinary teamwork and innovation—skills that he has proven to have in abundance.

As an example of teamwork leading to great insights, Mike collaborated with HVO colleagues on a study that combined deformation measurements with gas emissions, lava eruption rates, lava chemistry and seismicity to reveal a dramatic increase in magma supply rate to Kīlauea.  This study—the first of its kind–showed how information about supply rate changes on a short timescale can help forecast the eruptive behavior of the volcano.  The surge in supply started in late 2003 and led to the start of a new, long-lived volcanic vent on the East Rift Zone in 2007, and probably contributed to the opening of Kīlauea’s summit vent in 2008.

Through Mike’s work, we also know that the opening of the summit vent was actually the result of a process that began decades ago.  Analyzing data from microgravity measurements on Kīlauea, he helped identify an accumulation of magma in the area beneath the current summit vent that had not been detected by any other means.

This insight inspired Mike to establish instruments to continuously record subtle changes in the gravity field on Kīlauea.  One revelation from these data is that the density of the upper part of the summit lava lake is much lower than expected—less than the density of water, implying that the lava is extremely gas-rich, similar to the foam on beer.


Mike put his InSAR skills to good use as well, authoring many studies that range from widespread deformation, like that associated with intrusions into Kīlauea’s rift zones, to localized deformation in hazardous areas such as the unstable new land formed where lava enters the sea and the rim of the Kīlauea’s summit vent.  He also used InSAR in innovative ways, for example, in mapping lava flow coverage over time to estimate Kīlauea’s lava effusion rate.

As part of HVO’s centennial celebration in 2012, Mike spearheaded an initiative to convene researchers from around the world to explore what is known about basaltic volcanism and the important questions still to be answered.  He contributed to and edited “Hawaiian Volcanoes: From Source to Surface,” a publication resulting from that conference, as well as “Characteristics of Hawaiian Volcanoes,” a USGS publication synthesizing what we have learned from the first 100 years of HVO’s observations.

During his time at HVO, Mike mentored numerous young researchers and more than 20 volunteers, most of whom have pursued geoscience careers.  Working with earth science educators, he created teaching modules based on interactive, real-time volcano monitoring data from Kīlauea.  He has been a frequent leader of visiting university classes, and also taught deformation monitoring during the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes International Training program for volcano observatory staff across the globe.

Mike’s passion for volcano science and commitment to using his knowledge to help mitigate volcanic hazards were obvious in his many public presentations—for example, for Volcano Awareness Month and for the Puna communities potentially impacted by the June 27 flow.  Before he departs, Mike will share his top-10 insights from working at HVO during the past decade in an “After Dark in the Park” presentation in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on February 24th.


HVO staff may still not have learned to fully appreciate hockey, but we have certainly learned much about volcanic processes through Mike’s work.  While this Volcano Watch article mentions just a few of his accomplishments at HVO, we thank him for his countless contributions and wish him well in his future endeavors.

Kīlauea activity update

Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone lava flow fed breakouts across the leading 3 km (2 mi) of the flow, in an area roughly 6 km (4 miles) upslope of the flow front, and in an area farther upslope near Puʻu ʻŌʻō. When mapped on Tuesday, Feb. 10, the most distal activity on the flow field was a weak breakout about 800 meters (0.5 miles) upslope of Highway 130.

The summit lava lake level rose about 20 m (65 ft) during the week, and was about 35 meters (115 ft) below the rim of the Overlook crater as of Thursday, Feb. 12.


Three earthquakes in the past week were reported felt on the Island of Hawai`i. On Saturday, Feb. 8 at 12:57 p.m., a magnitude-2.9 earthquake occurred 5.9 km (3.7 mi) south of Captain Cook at a depth of 12.0 km (7.5 mi). On Mon, Feb. 9 at 8:16 a.m., a magnitude-4.3 earthquake occurred 8.5 km (5.3 mi) west of Kīlauea Summit at a depth of 13.4 km (8.3 mi). On Wednesday, Feb. 11 at 7:46 p.m., a magnitude-3.0 earthquake occurred 4.4 km (2.7 mi) southeast of Pāhala at a depth of 8.8 km (5.5 mi).

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

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