A critical discovery from HVO's 100-year vigil is the realization that Kilauea-type volcanoes harbor serious destructive potential. Kilauea, like other so-called shield volcanoes, typically enjoys a benign reputation. But it turns out that these supposedly gentle giants can suffer spells of surprisingly explosive behavior and are often prone to major earthquakes and landslides around their submerged flanks.
In 1902 an eruption of Mount Pelée on the Caribbean island of Martinique changed the way scientists around the world viewed natural disasters. Despite months of precursory signs, political officials assured the population that there was no cause for alarm. On the morning of 8 May, however, a violent eruption killed 30,000 residents. Just hours earlier, an eruption at La Soufrière volcano, on St. Vincent island, only 100 miles away, killed nearly 1700 people."
Jaggar was among a team of scientists sent to study the aftermath of these eruptions, and it was then that he set his mind to the idea that permanent observation stations are the best way to protect people and property from volcanic eruptions.
During a stopover in Hawaii a few years later, Jaggar plied his dream with some Honolulu businessmen who pledged to fund an observatory on Kilauea in partnership with MIT, where Jaggar was working at the time.
Be it eruptions, earthquakes, expelled gases, tilting ground surfaces or flowing lava, HVO scientists have been there to measure all the goings-on at Kilauea and its sister volcano, Mauna Loa, ever since Jaggar got his novel idea off the ground in 1912. In all, they have tallied:
almost 50 Kīlauea eruptions (explosive eruptions of Kīlauea in 1924 drained a long-lived lava lake at its summit)
12 Mauna Loa eruptions (during a 1950 eruption, lava flows advanced more than 20 kilometers from vent to ocean in just a few hours)
and dozens of strong earthquakes (a magnitude 7.2 earthquake beneath Kīlauea's south flank in 1975 caused two deaths and millions of dollars in damage)
Only time will tell what Hawaii's volcanoes have in store in the next 100 years.
Grand prize winner of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory's centennial poster contest. The creator of this work is a fourth grader at Waiakeāwaena Elementary School on the Big Island of Hawaii. (Photo courtesy USGS)
The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, located on the rim of Kïlauea Volcano's summit caldera, overlooks Halemaÿumaÿu Crater. A volcanic gas plume still emits from a new vent that opened in 2008. (Photo courtesy USGS and Michael P. Poland)
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