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Climate scientists at Maunaloa Observatory are 'pursuing all options' to get back on site

View from the Maunaloa Observatory located on the north flank of Maunaloa Volcano.
View from the Maunaloa Observatory located on the north flank of Maunaloa Volcano.

The eight scientists and technicians who work at the Maunaloa Observatorycollecting climate data are grateful to be out of harm’s way of the lava flow.

They say they are anxious to return to the facility though no one knows when it will be safe to do so.

The Conversation talked to Aidan Colton, who was born and raised on the Big Island. He has worked there since 2004 and says just about all of the full and part-time staff at the facility are from Hawaiʻi and are so deeply connected to the Mauna.

He says that luckily, nobody was there on site when Maunaloa began erupting. Civil Defense enclosed the road before his crew was allowed to get there on Monday morning, which he says "turned out to be a really good thing."

He explains that the observatory run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and collects baseline data which has been operating non-stop since it opened in the 1950’s.

The observatory collects data about the atmosphere, specifically solar radiation, aerosols, atmospheric trace gases and more. The area was at risk when the lava began to flow.

"Unfortunately, the speed at which Madame Pele took out our access road and power was was just unexpected," Colton said.

He says they will be able to repair what was damaged by the lava, and that all of their instruments went unharmed.

Colton says that they are discussing all options on how to get to the observatory if the lava flows over the main road.

"We do have a helicopter pad location on site for a situation like this where we might need to be evacuated," he says.

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

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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