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The Conversation

Federal officials want to increase their ability to monitor active volcanoes, including in Hawaiʻi

Kilauea volcano lava 030422
L. Gallant/AP
U.S. Geological Survey
In this photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, lava erupts within the summit crater of Kīlauea Volcano in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park March 4, 2022. (L. Gallant/USGS via AP)

The federal government wants to increase its ability to monitor active volcanoes, including the ones in Hawaiʻi.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program has a new Strategic Science Plan. It targets monitoring gaps on the 35 most threatening volcanoes in the country, some of which are in Hawaiʻi.

“The more varied type of instruments you have on the volcano, the better you’re going to be able to detect eruption precursors that happen before an eruption — typically, weeks to sometimes months and certainly days before an eruption," said program coordinator Charlie Mandeville who will oversee the new plan.

"We probably need to beef up the instrumentation on the southwest side of Mauna Loa and also plans are in the works to increase the monitoring instruments down the lower East Rift Zone of Kīlauea," Mandeville said.

May marked the fourth anniversary of the Kīlauea eruption in the lower Puna area of Hawaiʻi Island — the most destructive volcanic episode in the United States since the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980.

"During the days before the 2018 eruption of Kīlauea, we knew there was an increase in the number of earthquakes happening beneath that volcano," Mandeville said.

Several events indicated to scientists that an eruption would occur soon, such as the migration of the earthquakes to the lower East Rift Zone portion of the volcano, he said.

"All those things happening sequentially and simultaneously told us that eruption was imminent within about two days. And we successfully predicted that eruption on April 30. And on May 3, we had the first fissures being opened up in the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens," Mandeville told The Conversation.

The Volcano Hazards Program hopes to also work with international partners in places such as Tonga to protect communities from violent eruptions.

This interview aired on The Conversation on May 26, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

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