Volcanologists receive $119,000 federal grant to research Kīlauea eruption

Volcanologists at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) will receive a $119,821 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to study the ongoing volcanic activity on Hawaiʻi Island. The project, Rapid: Tracking magmatic and volcanic changes in the May 2018 Kīlauea Eruption, seeks to inform why the current volcanic activity is occurring and will help to predict future eruption activity.

“Scientific data has been critical to tracking the volcanic activity on Hawaiʻi Island to minimize the threat to Puna families,” Hirono said. “This federal funding is timely and will increase the resources available to study Kīlauea’s east rift zone and gain insight into future eruptions.”

“We are extremely grateful to the U.S. National Science Foundation, UH Hilo and the USGS (United States Geological Survey) Hawaiian Volcano Observatory for funding and supporting this research into the current eruption at Kīlauea, using a range of rapid-response tools,” said Ken Rubin, principal investigator on the grant and chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at SOEST.

The project was funded through the National Science Foundation’s Rapid Research Response program, which is available for research on natural disasters and other unanticipated events.

Rubin, along with three other SOEST volcanologists, Thomas Shea, Julia Hammer and Michael Garcia, will lead the assessment of the location and movement of magma beneath the lower east rift zone of Kīlauea to provide information on the processes leading up to the fissures and eruption activity. This study will incorporate aerial imagery and samples of lava collected throughout the event by UH Hilo and the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory to inform knowledge on volcanic processes and activities in volcanic rift zones.

Additionally, the project also includes application of very short half-life natural radioactivity to look at volcanic conditions such as magma ascent rate and degassing. These need to be measured in lavas shortly after being erupted or the signal decays away.

“This eruption represents an amazing opportunity to look, really for the first time, at variations of the isotopes with eruption condition in space and time, and would simply not be possible without the sample collections in real time by USGS,” said Rubin. “Very few labs in the world can do this sort of analysis and we are lucky to be able to take advantage of this opportunity.”