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‘Volcano Watch’ Receives National Award

September 5, 2019, 6:06 PM HST (Updated September 6, 2019, 1:17 PM)
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On behalf of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, Carolyn Donlin, Chief of the USGS Menlo Park Publishing Service Center, accepted an award from the National Association of Government Communicators recognizing HVO’s weekly “Volcano Watch” articles as excellent communication products. “Volcano Watch” received First Place in the Electronic Publication category in the 2019 NAGC Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards ceremony in Arlington, Virginia, in June. Photo courtesy of NAGC

Volcano Watch was honored in June 2019 for excellence in government communications.

The weekly article series, written primarily by US Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) staff and occasionally by USGS partners and university affiliates, was recently honored by the National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC).

In its annual Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Award program, NAGC recognizes excellence in government communication products with awards in over 40 categories. During a reception in Arlington, Virginia, on June 26, 2019, Volcano Watch was awarded First Place in the Electronic Publication category.

Volcano Watch dates back to November 1991, when Dave Clague, HVO’s Scientist-in-Charge at the time, began writing weekly articles as a way to keep Island of Hawaiʻi residents informed about Hawaiian eruptions and earthquakes. At the time, the Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō eruption was in its ninth year, and lava flows had already buried much of Kalapana and the Royal Gardens subdivision on Kīlauea’s southeast flank. During the remainder of the 35-year-long eruption, Volcano Watch continued to be a means of disseminating information about the lava flows and related topics.

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Initially, Volcano Watch articles were only printed in local newspapers. But starting in the late 1990s, the articles were posted online in addition to being printed in newspapers. Today, articles from 1991 to the present are archived on HVO’s Volcano Watch webpage https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/hvo_volcano_watch.html. Volcano Watch is also shared via USGS social media—Facebook and Twitter—as well as by Internet news outlets.

During the 2018 Kīlauea volcanic events, Volcano Watch was an important means of conveying information about volcanic and seismic activity that had tremendous impacts on Hawaiʻi residents. The articles, especially those written between April and September 2018, were aimed at keeping island residents and visitors, county and state emergency managers, scientific colleagues, media (local, national and international), as well as ‘volcanophiles’ around the globe informed about hazards associated with Kīlauea’s lower East Rift Zone lava flows and summit caldera collapses. The weekly Volcano Watch articles complemented HVO’s more formal daily updates posted online and released via the USGS Volcano Notification System, a free service that sends email notices about volcanic activity to recipients who sign up for them.

In May 2018, when Kīlauea’s lower East Rift Zone eruption began, hits to the Volcano Watch webpage jumped significantly—from a monthly average of about 3,000 to almost 36,000. Monthly visitation remained more than twice the average until early September, when the eruption ended—evidence that people looked to Volcano Watch as an accurate source of information.

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Products entered in the 2019 Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Award competition had to be produced by or for a government organization between July 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2018—a notable period for HVO with three-plus months of unprecedented volcanic activity on Kīlauea starting in April 2018. Entries were judged on writing, content, purpose/goal, dissemination, target audience, overall impression and other criteria.

Cost-effectiveness was one of the other criteria by which communication products were judged in the NAGC award program. The cost of Volcano Watch includes HVO staff hours required to write, edit, revise and select/create imagery for the weekly articles. The annual cost in 2018 was estimated to be around $15,000, which amounts to about 18 cents per webpage view. That cost decreases dramatically when thousands of newspaper readers and social media followers are also considered in the calculation.

Producing a weekly article can be difficult under the best of circumstances. The summer of 2018 presented many additional challenges with HVO staff essentially working around the clock to monitor Kīlauea. Still, weekly Volcano Watch articles continued to be issued to help people stay informed about the activity and hazards associated with Kīlauea’s largest lower East Rift Zone eruption and summit collapse in at least 200 years.

The 2019 award for Volcano Watch is the second HVO product to be recognized by the NAGC. In 2018, the USGS video, Kīlauea Summit Eruption—Lava Returns to Halema‘uma‘u, received Second Place in the Documentary category of the Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards.

If you’d like to know more about the history of Volcano Watch, visit HVO’s Sept. 30, 2010, Volcano Watch article.

Volcano Activity Updates

Kῑlauea Volcano is not erupting and its USGS Volcano Alert level remains at NORMAL. Reflecting this level, HVO is now issuing monthly updates for Kīlauea. For definitions of the alert levels, see https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/vhp/about_alerts.html.

Monitoring data for deformation have shown no notable changes in Kīlauea activity over the past week. Rates of seismicity across the volcano have not significantly changed. Sulfur dioxide emission rates are low at the summit and below detection limits at Puʻu ʻŌʻō and the Lower East Rift Zone (LERZ).

At or near the 2018 LERZ eruptive fissures, elevated ground temperatures and minor releases of gas (steam, tiny amounts of hydrogen sulfide, and carbon dioxide) persist. These are typical post-eruption conditions and are expected to be long-term, as they were after the 1955 LERZ eruption.

The water level at the bottom of Halema‘uma‘u continues to slowly rise. HVO is monitoring the pond closely, and under the current conditions, its presence in the crater has not increased the risk to public safety.

Hazards remain at the lower ERZ and summit of Kīlauea. Residents and visitors near the 2018 fissures, lava flows and summit collapse area should heed Hawai‘i County Civil Defense and Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park closures and warnings. The 2018 lava flows are primarily on private property, and people are asked to be respectful and to not enter or park on private property.

Mauna Loa is not erupting. Its USGS Volcano Alert level remains at ADVISORY. This alert level does not mean that an eruption is imminent or that progression to an eruption is certain. A similar increase in activity occurred between 2014 and 2018 and no eruption occurred.

This past week, approximately 50 small-magnitude earthquakes (all less than M2.5) were detected beneath the upper elevations of Mauna Loa. Deformation measurements show continued summit inflation, consistent with supply to the volcano’s shallow magma storage system. No significant changes in volcanic gas release on the Southwest Rift Zone were measured, and fumarole temperatures there and at the summit remain unchanged.

Mauna Loa updates are issued weekly. For more info on the status of the volcano, go to https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/mauna_loa/status.html.

One earthquake with three or more felt reports occurred in Hawai‘i this past week: a magnitude-2.8 quake two miles south of Leilani Estates at a seven-mile depth on Aug. 31, 2019, at 2:01 p.m. HST.

HVO continues to closely monitor both Kīlauea and Mauna Loa for any signs of increased activity.

Visit HVO’s website for past Volcano Watch articles, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa updates, volcano photos, maps, recent earthquake information and more. Email questions to [email protected].

Volcano Watch is a weekly article and activity update written by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and affiliates.

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