Hawaiʻi County Officials Unaware Feds Considering Off-Island Move for Volcano Observatory

Apr 1, 2019

Kīlauea's lower East Rift Zone on July 21, 2018.
Credit USGS-Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

Hawai'i County officials say they were unaware that federal officials are considering moving the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory off the island where there are erupting volcanos.


The possibility of the relocation came to light last week during a U.S. Senate confirmation hearing for David Bernhardt, the nominee for secretary of the Department of  Interior.

Hawai'i Sen. Mazie Hirono questioned Bernhardt about the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory's possible move to O'ahu.  She urged Bernhardt to leave Hawaiian Volcano Observatory on the island where eruptions actually occur.

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory was created more than a century ago by Dr. Thomas Jaggar, to monitor and study Hawaii's volcanoes.  With Kilauea and Mauna Loa being the most active volcanoes, its location on the Big Island is considered invaluable. 

Tina Neal, HVO scientist in charge, confirmed the discussions.

"The U.S. Geological Survey  is still in the process of working with all of our stakeholders to determine the best solution for going forward and we will focus on  what is the best facility arrangement to allow us to continue our critical monitoring, our important science,  and our relationships with emergency managers and the at-risk public, and best address the safety of our employees and our materials," she said.

"There are federal facilities on O'ahu that offer some potential advantages for some parts of our operation."   

Neal says she is on her way to Washington, D.C., this week for further discussions.

"Planning efforts are looking at multiple options. O'ahu has been suggested for part of our function and will remain in the mix.  No decisions have been made."

The response from Hawai'i County officials has been swift. Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said immediate access to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff  is essential for every facet of preparing for, responding, and managing the threat from island volcanoes.   

Mayor Harry Kim said he thought it was a joke when somebody told him about it, and he will do everything he can to ensure the impractical move is not carried out.

Updated: April 2, 2019, 9:47 p.m. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story included a photo of a volcano that was incorrectly identified as Kilauea.