Don Thomas

(808) 932-7554

(808) 932-7547

Portable Building 14


Don Thomas grew up in Maryland, and attended Dickinson Collge, earning a BS in Physics and Chemistry. He received a Master's in Chemistry in Oregon (Graduate Institute of Science and Engineering). He was then recruited by the University of Hawaii at Manoa to study volcanoes, and received a Ph.D. in Chemistry.


DT spent the next four decades working at UH as a research scientist. His areas of interest include geothermal energy, water resources, and gas emissions from volcanoes. Early on, he became interested in core drilling, in which rock samples are extracted from the ground in sequential cores, providing a rich geologic history of the area. The many drilling projects that were funded under DT's leadership allowed for models of groundwater storage to be refined, and provided new discoveries about the history of the formation of the Big Island.

Two men examine a rock core at a drill siteDon Thomas and Ron Fireback examine a core sample of rock at the drill site.

A man looks at a row of rock core samples on a tableDon Thomas reviews a set of rock core samples from a drilling project.


In 1995, Don Thomas was appointed Director of the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes, and immediately set about writing grant proposals to expand the program. Funding from FEMA supported the CSAV Outreach program, allowing continuation of public seminars and expansion to teacher training workshops and school visits to educate the public about natural hazards and mitigation.

A man talks to school children outdoorsDon Thomas explains to school children how lava flowed towards the Pahoa Transfer Station; fortunately, the town of Pahoa escaped serious destruction.

Actors discuss a scene in a carportOne of the FEMA grants received by CSAV allowed the creation of a video about Earthquake and Volcanic Hazards, which was distributed free to the public.

As Director of CSAV, DT received generous funding from the USGS Volcano Disaster Assistance Program to support the International Training Program held in Hawaii each summer. By 2020, over 260 participants to this course have come from 30 countries, returning home with knowledge and techniques to better monitor dangerous volcanoes in their countries, and with a brotherhood of cooperation between the participants, formed by working with one another in field and class.

A man lectures to students seated in a classroomDon Thomas lectures to the 2014 International participants in a classroom.

A man listens to a fellow scientist as she discusses volcanic gasAt Sulphur Banks, Don Thomas listens as CSAV participant from El Salvador, Dolors Ferres, describes volcanic gas emissions.

A man demonstrates how to read the colors in a collection tube, as students observeCSAV participants watch as Don Thomas demonstrates how to read a Draeger Tube.

In 1998, DT was appointed PI for the newly established Cooperative Agreement between UH Hilo and the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. This collaborative partnership resulted in research projects between the two organizations, including hiring of students, post-docs and full-time assistants, as well as providing equipment needed by researchers.

Don Thomas, flanked by Darcy and David, receives an awardDon Thomas, Director of CSAV, receives a Lifetime Achievement Award; he is flanked by Darcy Bevens and David Carvalho.

A man in a laboratory holds a glass collection tubeDon Thomas is an extraordinary administrator, but he still loves working in the lab, best of all.