VOLCANO WATCH: Jim Kauahikaua Receives Meritorious Service Award

July 10, 2015, 8:15 AM HST
* Updated July 10, 8:17 AM
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Dr. Jim Kauahikaua, a research geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, recently received a Citation for Meritorious Service, the second highest U.S. Department of the Interior honor award that can be granted to a career employee. The award is in recognition of his outstanding scientific contributions in the field of volcano hazards for the USGS and his leadership of HVO.

Known to many on the Island of Hawai‘i as “Dr. Jim,” Kauahikaua was, for many residents, the patient, calm, and steady face of HVO during last fall’s threatening lava flow in lower Puna. This was acknowledged in the citation, which states that “his expertise is potentially lifesaving for residents on Hawai‘i Island” and that his leadership has proven invaluable during responses to natural hazards.

The citation further commends Kauahikaua for his work strengthening relations between HVO and other Federal, State, and County agencies, which has improved interagency coordination during periods of elevated volcano and earthquake activity. The success of his efforts was especially evident during Hawai‘i Island’s recent lava flow crisis, when HVO and Hawai‘i County Civil Defense worked closely and diligently to keep Puna residents informed and safe.

Kauahikaua, who grew up on O‘ahu and graduated from Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu, began his USGS career in 1976 as an intern with the Branch of Electromagnetism and Geomagnetism in Denver, CO.  While still working for the USGS electromagnetism group, he returned to O‘ahu, where he completed a PhD in geophysics at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in 1983.

In 1988, Kauahikaua accepted a transfer to the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, where he focused on applying geophysical methods to volcanological problems. When lava flows inundated the Kalapana community in 1990, he became interested in lava flow dynamics and mitigating volcanic hazards in Hawai’i. He has since developed tools for lava flow hazards assessment and methods for quantifying lava flow emplacement that have been utilized during Kīlauea Volcano’s ongoing East Rift Zone eruption, including the recent advance of lava toward Pāhoa.


In October 2004, Kauahikaua was named HVO’s 19th Scientist-in-Charge—the first of Hawaiian ancestry. The Meritorious Service Award citation notes that, as Scientist-in-Charge, Kauahikaua “guided HVO through significant changes in monitoring and communication technologies, volcanic and earthquake activity, staff reorganization and makeup, and scientific and public outreach activities, leaving HVO well-prepared to tackle 21st Century challenges.”


After serving as HVO’s Scientist-in-Charge for more than 10 years—one of the longest terms in the observatory’s history—Kauahikaua rotated back to his former position as an HVO research geophysicist in March 2015. He is now happily focused on scientific investigations that had to be put on hold during the past decade, when his time and attention were effectively consumed by administrative and managerial responsibilities.

Tina Neal, who succeeds Kauahikaua as Scientist-in-Charge, notes the extremely high regard that HVO holds in the global science community, both in terms of scientific accomplishment and public service. “It is an honor to inherit leadership of such a beloved and talented organization within the Hawai‘i Island community, and I give Jim much credit for that,” she said.

In response to the award bestowed upon him, Kauahikaua said, “HVO couldn’t have accomplished so much these past 10 years without the support of the entire HVO staff, a team of highly dedicated individuals. Together, we have accomplished some amazing things, and now, with Tina’s leadership, we will do even more.”


Congratulations, Dr. Jim!  The DOI Meritorious Service Award is well-deserved recognition for your years of service to the USGS and HVO.

Kilauea Activity Update

Kilauea’s summit lava lake level, which fluctuates in response to summit inflation and deflation, remained fairly steady at 45-50 m (150-165 ft) below the vent rim for much of the past week, but dropped to about 39 m (128 ft) on July 7-8.

Kilauea’s East Rift Zone lava flow continues to feed widespread breakouts northeast of Puʻu ʻŌʻō.  Active flows are slowly covering and widening the flow field, but remain within about 8 km (5 mi) of Puʻu ʻŌʻō.

There were no earthquakes reported felt on the Island of Hawai‘i during the past week.

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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