UH Hilo geology alums are on the front line of new eruption at Halema‘uma‘u crater

The three alumna—Miki Warren, Liliana DeSmither, and Katie Mulliken—are currently working at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory helping with data collection and public communication during the current eruption that began Dec. 20,2020.

By Susan Enright

Armed with little sleep and a great education from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, three graduates from the geology program have critical roles in the ongoing eruption that began late Sunday at Halema‘uma‘u crater at the summit of Kīlauea, Hawai‘i Island.

Two women standing in a lava field.
An archive photo, from left, Katie Mulliken and Liliana Desmither, Kalapana, 2012. Courtesy photo.
Miki Warren stands next to car flashing shaka.
Miki Warren. Courtesy photo.

The three alumna are Miki Warren (2018), Liliana DeSmither (2014), and Katie Mulliken (2012), all working at the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) and currently helping with data collection, as well as public communication, during the current eruption that began on Dec. 20, winter solstice 2020.

DeSmither explains what she and Mulliken worked on in the first 18 hours of the eruption:

“Got a total of 2.5 hours of sleep last night,” DeSmither explains. “Katie and I have been handling the VAN/VONA releases (Volcano Activity Notice and Volcano Observatory Notice for Aviation); (helping to write, edit, and review) the information statement for the M4.4 earthquake last night. We’ve also been getting updates, photos, and videos from the field crews to write captions and post multimedia to the HVO webpage and responding to askHVO emails (public questions sent to askHVO@usgs.gov). Attended several meetings and calls about the eruption response and public facing information.” She also created an animated image for the public showing the first several hours of the eruption using F1cam thermal camera images (see GIF at top of this post).

DeSmither and Mulliken are geologists who work in the field, but also in data analysis and public communication.

Warren’s specialty is gas geochemistry. She assists HVO scientists in collecting data on the types and amounts of volcanic gases that are emitted by the volcano, both during eruptions and times of inactivity. This work is critical for understanding how volcanoes work, but also for protecting the health of the general public.

About her work during the first night and following day of the current eruption, Warren says, “I got a call from Tamar Elias, USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory gas geochemist, at 10:30 pm Sunday night. I was on standby until I got the official word about half an hour later to head to the USGS-HVO warehouse in Kea‘au to pick up the gas team’s FTIR (Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectrometer) to bring to the summit of Kīlauea, where Halema‘uma‘u was erupting. I went out with the gas team that night and collected geochemical spectral data using the light emitted from the new lava fountain in Halema‘uma‘u. The next morning I came home and slept for two hours, then grabbed new sulfur dioxide sensors to see how much SO2 the lava was producing, and headed back to meet the HVO gas geochemists Tamar Elias and Tricia Nadeau for another full day of volcanic gas measurements.”

Darcy Bevens
Darcy Bevins

All three alumna gained experience working around volcanic features, and monitoring eruptions of Kīlauea, while attending UH Hilo. Darcy Bevens, educational specialist at the UH Hilo Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes (CSAV), explains, “They acquired knowledge and skills, both from taking geology classes, and from working as student assistants with the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes International Training program.”

Bevens says the three geologists were hired at HVO through a UH Hilo Cooperative Research Agreement, established by the late Senator Daniel K. Inouye in 1998 to promote research collaboration between HVO and UH Hilo, as well as an active natural hazards public outreach program to Hawai‘i Island’s schools. The grant is managed by CSAV.

“Other cooperative projects include providing funding for equipment shared between HVO and UH Hilo,” says Bevens. “The UH Hilo geology department provides lab space and shares equipment with HVO, and students currently enrolled as geology majors enjoy working with HVO scientists on research projects.”

Photos of the alums at the current eruption will be shared as soon as the field team is able to provide. Watch this space.


Story by Susan Enright, 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.