Hawai'i Volcano Blog

Hawai‘i Volcano Watch: HVO Looks Forward to 2018

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First high-definition thermal image of the Halemaʻumaʻu lava lake in the New Year, taken shortly after midnight on Jan. 1, 2018. This camera was deployed to track the dynamic surface activity of the lava lake at the summit of Kīlauea. The high-resolution image allows HVO scientists to better discern fine-scale features of the circulating, spattering, and ever-changing lake surface, revealing insights into processes that drive lava lake motion. The temperature scale at right is in degrees Celsius, but the highest temperatures of exposed lava (above 1100 C) are not discernable at this setting to preserve detail in the cooler crust and walls. Credit: USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

With the Wolf Moon illuminating Kīlauea Caldera from above and the Halemaʻumaʻu lava lake glowing below, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) looks forward to another year of investigating the island’s magnificent, active volcanoes. Not surprisingly, 2018 will see additions and improvements to our monitoring and research toolkit.

Right off the bat, in early January, HVO will work with colleagues from the University of Cambridge to use a portable radar system to study the Halemaʻumaʻu lava lake. Under a research permit from the National Park Service, the system will be installed on the rim of Halemaʻumaʻu and trained on the surface of the lava lake.

Radar has been used at the Erebus lava lake in Antarctica, but this will be the first time radar is used to measure the Halemaʻumaʻu lava lake. The objective is to provide a fine-scale movie of lake motion to help us better understand processes such as lake circulation, degassing, and crustal formation and destruction.


Combining radar imagery and results with other monitoring data, such as seismicity and gas flux, may provide new insights into the reasons for the rise and fall of the lava lake. Radar may also prove helpful in providing HVO a real-time lava level tracking tool, something we do now with thermal web camera imagery.

Speaking of thermal pictures, HVO has recently deployed a new, high-definition thermal camera on the rim of Halemaʻumaʻu to augment our long record of infrared imagery of the lava lake. The new camera provides images at much higher resolution than the older model, which, coincidentally, just gave up the ghost after eight years of steady service in the corrosive gas plume.

The new high-definition camera provides unprecedented clarity in seeing small features on the surface of the lava lake in the thermal infrared: striations emanating from spreading centers, variable temperatures across the crustal plates, and even wrinkles and small bubbles on the surface of the crust. You can see images from this camera on the HVO website at https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/webcam.html?webcam=JTcam.


Turning to Mauna Loa, a new multi-gas monitoring system, designed and built by our partners at the USGS-Volcano Emissions Project, is riding out its first winter high on the slopes of the massive, restless volcano. This installation helps us watch for changes in temperature next to a major fumarole along with hydrogen sulfide, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide and water vapor. A co-located meteorological station also records temperature and wind speed. This is the second high-altitude, real-time gas monitoring system on Mauna Loa; the other one has been purring along on the floor of Moku‘āweoweo (caldera atop Mauna Loa) since its last tune-up in 2015.

Also on the gas front, HVO is working to upgrade the sulphur dioxide (SO2) spectrometer array that monitors emissions from the Halemaʻumaʻu lava lake. A goal of 2018 is to share more of these SO2 data with the public on our website. Stay tuned!

These are but a few of the activities ahead for HVO staff and collaborating scientists in 2018.
As always, we will continue to publish daily and weekly updates of activity at Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, respectively, and populate our website with public domain images and movies of volcanic activity and HVO’s fieldwork.


In closing, don’t forget that January is Volcano Awareness Month! The next few weeks offer terrific opportunities to meet HVO scientists and learn more about Hawaiian volcanoes.

Join us this next week for a talk about Kīlauea Volcano’s ongoing East Rift Zone eruption in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park on Jan. 9; a presentation about Kīlauea’s 1955 lower Puna eruption at Lyman Museum on Jan. 8 and 9; and a “talk story” event focused on Mauna Loa at UH-Hilo on Jan. 13. Details about these talks and others throughout January are posted on HVO’s website, or you can email askHVO@usgs.gov or call (808) 967-8844 for more information.

Volcano Watch is a weekly article written by U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and colleagues.


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