Geographer creates infographics on Puna lava flow

A visual guide to the lava flow in Puna.

By Susan Enright.

Mark Kimura
Mark Kimura at the Pahoa Village Museum on Sept. 20, 2014.

Mark Kimura, a researcher at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo who specializes in economic geography, is generating mapping data of the lava flow in Puna, Hawai‘i Island

Kimura is an affiliate faculty member of the UH Hilo geography and environmental sciences department, and when the Hawai‘i County Civil Defense and Hawaiian Volcano Observatory started discussing worst case scenarios of the current lava flow, he saw a need for easily accessible information about demographics and businesses in Puna that would help the community make important decisions. So he started posting his maps and analysis on Facebook at Lower Puna Infographics by Dr. Mark Kimura. (UPDATE: to find infographics on the 2014 flow, scroll through to 2104 section).

“The more I read comments (on my Facebook account), the more firmly I’m convinced that education is crucial across the island both geographically and demographically,” says Kimura. “I try my best to make my graphics both accurate and concise at the same time, but there are limits for that effort. The existence of UH Hilo is also crucial in a situation like this. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without my access to UH Hilo’s resources, mainly software licenses, and connections with other scientists and staff.”

For his analysis, Kimura is using Geographic Information Systems or GIS, which are computer systems designed to capture and analyze spatial or geographical data. For many of the images, he is using a GIS tool called Esri Community Analyst, which he learned as a former postdoc and member of the UH Hilo Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Lab. Esri is used by organizations and communities around the world that are using GIS to increase spatial literacy, protect the environment, assist with disaster response, and support humanitarian affairs. With this computerized tool, Kimura creates the maps of Puna and pulls up the statistics.

Kimura says the making of the maps is helping him to grow as a scientist and as a person.

“To be honest, I’m a bit scared of possible impacts my [infographics] may have on people,” he says. “The responsibilities that come with the information I share feel too much at times. But my salary for the past three years has been paid by tax payers, so if I can help people using my skills and resources, I have to do this. After reading people’s comments by people who live in the affected area and those who have their loved ones living in lower Puna, I can’t stop.”

Kimura adds this disclaimer: The information did not go through the peer review process, so he does not claim accuracy of the graphs. He notes that he does his best in the hopes that this will provide people in lower Puna and the rest of the world with some insights.

UPDATE July 17, 2019: Due to ADA accessibility compliance issues, the infographics that were posted here have been deleted. All of Mark Kimura’s graphs and information he created on the 2014 flow can be found at Lower Puna Infographics by Dr. Mark Kimura (to find infographics on the 2014 flow, scroll through to the 2104 section).


About the writer of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.