Natural Hazards Big Island

Hurricane Season is from June to November, so be prepared. In August of 2016, we had a close call with Madeline. Steve Businger of UH Mānoa has a great description of Hurricanes in Hawaiʻi, including an explanation of the fortunitous shearing effect of winds aloft vs trade winds that occurs adjacent to the island chain.

Information on the current eruption: USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. For information and updates about current Hawaiʻi hazards: Civil Defense.

New! IVHHN Vog Dashboard has all the information you need about vog.

The Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes is a training and outreach program located at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. Our emphasis has always been to provide information on volcanic hazards that occur in Hawaiʻi and worldwide, but we have expanded our program to include other natural hazards as well: earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, and brush fires. There are many web pages that describe the science of natural hazards, and we provide links to these pages. Our hazards web pages emphasize natural hazards in Hawaiʻi and the mitigation steps you can take to protect your property, home and family. You can't stop a natural disaster, but by preparing now, you can lessen its impact on you.


2018 Eruption Response: UH Hilo Provides Space for HVO

A river of lava from Fissure 8 flows to the sea
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the residents of Puna who lost their homes in the eruption of 2018.

The Geology Department at the University of Hawaii at Hilo is proud to have played a small role assisting the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory indirectly, with monitoring the eruption. Because of the extraordinary timing of the events, final exams had just been completed on campus, as the HVO building at the summit of Kilauea was beginning to crack. With school finished, the Geology Department had several empty classrooms, labs and offices available, which HVO staff were happy to move into temporarily, so that they could continue monitoring the volcano without a pause.

Classroom with scientists working
HVO set up offices at UH Hilo Geology Building classrooms.
Lab with technician working
The HVO technical crew built telemetry stations in the CSAV building.
Lab table with rock samples
Lava samples were analyzed in the Geology Lab as each fissure opened up.

Towards the end of summer, CSAV International scientists were allowed to visit the eruption in Puna, to learn how the USGS monitors volcanic activity using drones.


Scientists watch erupting lava
Angie Diefenbach (USGS) and the CSAV International scientists watch Fissure 8.
A drone is flying in the air
Angie showed the CSAV group how drones collect images and data of the lava flows.
Scientists stand on a road covered with rocks
The CSAV scientists observed road damage and tephra deposits near Fissure 8.

2018 Caldera Collapse: Crack Patrol Gathers Data

A section of road is broken with huge cracks
As Kilauea Caldera collapsed in response to the magma draining out and erupting in Puna, many cracks appeared in the adjacent ground, including Crater Rim Drive, where the underlying road material was shaken loose.

The large cracks associated with the summit collapse around Halemaumau were obvious. But HVO staff wondered, might there be smaller cracks, just outside of Kilauea Caldera, that would indicate possible widening of the caldera, which could threaten adjacent roads and buildings? In forested areas, such cracks would not be visible to drones, helicopters or satellites. Our first mission was to hike the trails, assisted by UH Hilo Geology students, and document these small and concealed cracks.

Cracks cover a pathway
Cracks developed on the asphalt path near Kilauea Overlook, as underlying fill shook loose into the pre-existing graben.
A man stands near a hole in the trail
A sinkhole opened up on the Kilauea Iki Trail, as repeated earthquakes caused the underlying material to drop.
Cracks are on the trail
Between Steaming Bluffs and KMC, narrow cracks appeared on the trail, parallel to the caldera wall.
Cracks cover a road with ash
Downwind of Halemaumau, large cracks opened up, and the area was coated by layers of fine gray ash produced during the earthquakes.
A boot has left a print in muddy ash
Here, the team only did work following a heavy rain, so that the ash would be moist, and unable to become an airborne hazard; boot print shows ash thickness.
Cracks are on the road
In contrast, very little ash fell upwind of Halemaumau, so that the deformation of Crater Rim Drive near Keanakakoi could be seen in detail.

A tripod is set over a benchmark
After the initial documentation of cracks was underway, the next step was to take careful measurements, to see if any cracks were enlarging; here, a kinematic GPS instrument is precisely centered over a benchmark near Keanakakoi.

Students hold a tape measure on the ground
Steel tape measurements were made at select locations, between Jaggar Museum and the highway, where micro cracks were abundant.
A tap measure covers a nail
The distance between two points is recorded, then compared with future measurements to see if the cracks are widening.
A scientist holds a tripod
The kinematic GPS survey was useful, because baseline data already existed, and thus areas of movement could be pinpointed.


2017 King Tides in Hilo

Grass Surfing at Keaukaha
Side by side photos showing a grassy area at Richardson's Beach Park at low tide and King Tide.
A boy is surfing on the grass during the King tide.

Luckily for Hilo, the King Tide of May 2017 did not coincide with high surf in Keaukaha. The side-by-side images above show the difference in low and King tide at Richardson's Beach Park, where brackish fish ponds are just inland of the ocean. If a King tide occurs during conditions of high surf, tropical storm, tsunami, or hurricane, the impacts of these natural disasters will be amplified. Be ready for all natural disasters by planning ahead, and avoiding the areas of impact. Stay safe!


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“Los desastres naturales no existen. Se presenta un desastre, no por causa de la Naturaleza, sino por la falta de preparacion por parte de la Sociedad.” (Hugo Delgado Granados) There’s no such thing as natural disasters. Disasters take place, not by Nature's hand, but by the lack of preparation on the part of Society.

— VOLCANOES, Global Perspectives, John P. Lockwood & Richard W. Hazlett