Ken Hon named scientist-in-charge at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

Ken Hon, a geology professor at UH Hilo from 1997 to 2020, served as interim vice chancellor for academic affairs for his final three years before retirement. His research on lava-flow inflation and the importance of shear rates in determining lava-flow morphology are foundational for understanding the hazards and behavior of basaltic volcanoes.

Ken Hon
Ken Hon. Photo credit: Cheryl Ganseki.

A former geology professor who recently retired from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo has been chosen by the U.S. Geological Survey as the new scientist-in-charge at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) located in Hilo, Hawai‘i.

Ken Hon, a geology professor in the Department of Geology from 1997 to 2020, served as interim vice chancellor for academic affairs for the final three years of his tenure at UH Hilo. As VCAA, he oversaw academic and research operations at the university and led initiatives to create a new degree in aeronautical science and start preparations for a degree in data science.

“I am honored and thrilled to be rejoining the USGS and the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory,” says Hon. “The next few years will be pivotal for HVO as we work to understand how Kīlauea responds in the aftermath of the 2018 eruption and to build new observatory facilities to continue to serve the community in the future.”

Hon previously worked with the USGS from 1981 to 1996. After completing his doctoral degree at the University of Colorado Boulder, he was a volcanologist at HVO from 1987 to 1990. His research has focused on petrologic studies, geologic mapping of the internal structure of large ash-flow calderas in the United States and Russia and understanding the formation and emplacement of lava flows and lava tubes.

HVO was founded in 1912 by Thomas A. Jaggar. Hon will serve as HVO’s 21st director.

“We are pleased to have Ken formally re-join HVO to lead it through what will be an exciting few years, with new staff members and a new building on the horizon,” says Michelle Coombs, acting director of the Volcano Science Center.

Coombs notes that Hon’s research on lava-flow inflation and the importance of shear rates in determining lava-flow morphology are foundational for understanding the hazards and behavior of basaltic volcanoes. In 2018, Hon’s depth of experience with Hawaiian volcanism and hydrothermal activity led him serve on Governor David Ige’s panel that oversaw the safe shutdown of the Puna Geothermal Ventures power plant during Kīlauea’s lower East Rift Zone eruption. Hon has also assisted his wife, Cheryl Gansecki, in creating widely viewed educational films on Kīlauea’s eruptive activity.

Hon succeeds Tina Neal, who returned to the Alaska Volcano Observatory this past summer.

HVO’s Deputy Scientist-in-Charge David Phillips has filled in as Acting SIC in the interim period. “We are so excited to welcome Ken and the tremendous knowledge, experience and leadership he brings to the HVO ‘ohana as we fulfill and evolve our mission and critical role within the community,” says Phillips.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is part of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program. HVO’s mission is to monitor, investigate, and assess hazards from active volcanoes and earthquakes in Hawai‘i, issue warnings, and advance scientific understanding in order to reduce impacts of volcanic eruptions. Communicating the results of our work to the public, emergency managers, and the scientific community is another important aspect of the HVO mission.

 

US Geological Survey media release