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Kilauea to fire up scientific stage


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POSTED: Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Kilauea's ongoing eruption—27 years in January—will be highlighted at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting Dec. 14-18 in San Francisco.

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and University of Hawaii-Manoa scientists will present observations and interpretations of Kilauea's activity in this year's Volcanology Program, titled “;The 2008-2009 Eruption of Halemaumau, Kilauea: Eruption, Ascent Dynamics and Plume Dispersion.”;

The special Halemaumau session also marks a new research partnership between the observatory and UH-Manoa to facilitate volcano research in Hawaii, said James P. Kauahikaua, observatory director. He is working with Bruce Houghton, UH-Manoa Macdonald chairman of volcanology, on the partnership.

Kauahikaua discussed the special scientific session and UH relationship in Wednesday's “;Volcano Watch”; and in an interview.

He said the volcanology session “;is centered around developments and a more detailed understanding of what's happening at the summit here and how it relates to the ongoing rift eruption. ... Now we've got an added one here at the summit in the last two years,”; he said, referring to the lava spewing from Halemaumau Crater on March 24, 2008.

“;We've learned a great deal about how that happens, but still we don't have all the answers.”;

Much of the observatory's effort is dedicated to collecting data, volcanic gas and geologic samples and visual observations from Halemaumau and the surrounding area within Kilauea caldera, Kauahikaua said.

“;Accordingly, the 'stars' of the Halemaumau show at the upcoming meeting are HVO's gas geochemistry and geology teams who authored or co-authored with both U.S. Geological Survey and university colleagues 15 of the special session's 20 presentations,”; he said in “;Volcano Watch.”;

“;Describing and understanding what has been erupted from Halemaumau since 2008 from the perspective of their work will help frame what caused this eruption and what future effects and behaviors we foresee.”;

Dramatic changes in Kilauea Volcano's behavior in 2007 and 2008 are believed to result from an increase in the amount of magma stored at shallow depths beneath Kilauea's summit caldera that started as early as 2003, Kauahikaua said.

He said several presentations will focus on aspects of the Halemaumau Overlook vent behaviors. Different types of seismic activity can be directly related to changes at the vent, he said. “;For example, many of the explosive events were immediately preceded by the collapse of vent rim slivers.

“;This suggests a rather simple, shallow trigger consisting of rocks falling into lava, contrary to a prevailing sense that such tremor originates at much deeper levels and propagates upward,”; he said. Rising and falling lava within the summit vent can also be directly related to “;unique seismicity patterns,”; he said.

Kauahikaua said observatory and UH-Manoa scientists have had partnerships on an individual basis, but now they have a more formalized collaborative relationship through a cooperative agreement. The university will receive money from the U.S. Geological Survey to work directly with the observatory, he said.

About $250,000 for the first year is included in the USGS 2010 budget before Congress and will be focused on work with specific investigators, graduate students and, in some instances, undergraduate students, he said.