USGS
Hawaiian Volcano 
Observatory


BEGINNINGS OF THE OBSERVATORY

In 1909 Jaggar proposed to prospective financial supporters in Honolulu an observatory program. Its purposes were listed as follows: (1) To establish "on the brink of the Volcano of Kilauea" buildings for instruments, laboratory, offices, and record storage; (2) to provide a room for a local museum; (3) to welcome advanced students for special work; (4) to establish a network of stations, some manned by volunteer observers, to study tides, soundings, earthquakes, and coastal movements; (5) to mount expeditions to other volcanic and earthquake belts for comparative studies; (6) to conduct research in gravity, magnetism, and latitude variations; (7) to initiate geological surveys; all of these with their "main object * * * humanitarian--earthquake prediction and methods of protecting life and property on the basis of sound scientific achievement" (Jaggar, 1917a, p. 2-3).

Thurston's Honolulu connections in 1909 pledged $3,450 a year for five years to help M.I.T. sponsor the observatory. M.I.T. officials did not think this was sufficient. In Honolulu, the plan was shelved. Jaggar and Daly returned to teaching at M.I.T., but they continued planning for a Kilauea observatory.

The Whitney Fund became available to M.I.T. in July 1909. Part was spent in 1909 and 1910 to secure (from the Werkstätte für Präzisions-Mechanik, Strassburg, Germany) a pair of Bosch-Omori seismometers (Bosch, 1910) and to order through Professor Omori in Tokyo the three Omori-designed seismometers made by Kyo-iku-hin Seizo Kaisha (Educational Appliance Company) (Omari, 1910).

Also in 1910, M.I.T. spent some Whitney Fund money to have Leeds and Northrup, Baltimore, Maryland, construct "special resistance thermometers," designed to take the temperature of liquid lava in the so-called perpetual lake at Kilauea. Part of the fund also helped send the temperature-taking Perret-Shepherd expedition to Kilauea in 1911. Personal and teaching concerns kept both Jaggar and Daly in Boston in 1910 and 1911 (Jaggar, 1917a).

The Leeds and Northrup thermometers were each about 3 m (I0 ft) long, with platinum coils inside protected by tubes of iron, nickel, and quartz. The job of measuring the temperature of the lava lake was seen by scientists in Boston and Baltimore to be something like sticking an iron rod into a pot of boiling tar. Readings were to be taken "on shore" through electric wires connected to the thermometer.

A cable system was designed and manufactured on the East Coast of the United States by the Lidgerwood Company and paid for by Whitney funds. Its job was to take a thermometer out over the lake of molten lava, lower it into the bubbling lava, hold it there while readings were taken, lift it out, and return it to shore. By the time the cable system arrived, the diameter of the lava lake in Halemaumau had so enlarged that the system did not fit and had to be modified. Six men were needed to operate the trolley that rode out on the cable and lowered the thermometer. F.A. Perret and E.S. Shepherd (from the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C.) had no funds to hire laborers. Work could only be done when enough volunteers showed up. The project dragged out over a month's time, while Pele's hair collected on the main cable and restricted trolley movement. The wires that pulled the trolley back and forth disintegrated and had to be replaced for each experiment. Over the course of the month, cable anchors and cables were weakened from constant exposure to steam and acid vapors. When work was under way, fumes often were so thick that the men at the winch could not see the thermometer. Signals were relayed around the rim of the lava lake to tell winchmen to reel in or out. In the thick of it all was chief volunteer Lorrin Andrews Thurston, who also recruited the other volunteers.

On July 30, 191l, after two thermometers had already been lost in the lake without readings, with the last thermometer mounted on the trolley and time running out for the disintegrating cable fittings, the last chance was at hand. Only three volunteers, including Thurston, showed up. Thurston put his family to work. Thurston himself handled the reel that lowered the thermometer; his wife Harriet held the cable tight on the drum; son Lorrin shifted coils; and daughter Margaret stood on the rim in heavy sulfur fumes to relay signals (from Perret down in the pit by the lake's edge) with a flag--signals that came to her father at the reel, to Shepherd standing by the meter, and to volunteers Emery and Ferris at the winch.

Before Pele swallowed the last thermometer, Shepherd got a reading of 1,000 °C (1,832 °F) from two feet under the surface of the lava lake. Shepherd himself suggested that future temperature readings be done with optical pyrometers, for "No mechanical system can long withstand the strain and abuse which Pele applies to any foreign object which invades her private lake" (quoted in Jaggar, 1917a, p. 47-50).

Perret, a meticulous observer and maker of notes, wrote reports not only on the progress of taking Pele's temperature, but also on volcanic phenomena generally. His first report covered almost a month and a half of scientific work and observations; the next five covered a week each (see Jaggar, 1917a, p. 35-46). He also wrote four scientific papers (Perret, 1913a, b, c, d). Thurston now had hands-on involvement helping scientists begin to investigate his favorite volcano, and he had published weekly a series of six authentic reports about Kilauea in his daily Honolulu Advertiser. In 1911 Thurston revived the 1909 subscription list, hoping to get his Honolulu friends and business associates to up the ante sufficiently high that M.I.T. would move its observatory plans off the drawing board and onto the rim of Kilauea caldera.

At a luncheon hosted by Thurston on October 5, 1911, the guests--obviously primed and ready--formed the Hawaiian Volcano Research Association--the famed HVRA. An unpaid executive committee of five were to be elected annually. This founding meeting of the HVRA adopted a motto: Ne plus haustae aut obrutae urbes (No more shall the cities be destroyed) (Macdonald, 1953).

Thurston chaired the executive committee, which was quickly endorsed by the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce to raise funds from among its members. Thurston served with Albert E Judd (representing the trustees of the Bishop Museum), John W. Gilmore (president, College--later University--of Hawaii), James A. Kennedy (of Interisland Steam Navigation Co.), and Clarence H. Cooke (of Charles M. Cooke, Ltd). The pledge was for $5,000 a year for five years, starting January 1, 1912. Treasurer Cooke and his associates of C.M. Cooke, Ltd., guaranteed the full amount in the event of failure of any individual subscribers to pay.

Negotiation by the HVRA executive committee with M.I.T. resulted in the assignment of Jaggar, as M.I.T. professor, to Hawaii as of January I, 1912. HVRA was to sponsor and operate the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. M.I.T. became an HVRA subscriber (indeed, the largest) for five years, using the income from the Whitney Fund and payments from 12 other New Englanders to its Seismological Fund. M.I.T. ran HVO's scientific affairs through Jaggar, who obviously received a deep delegation of authority, and granted use of its name and publishing facilities for that five-year period. In December 1911, Jaggar was granted leave of absence from his deanship and teaching duties at M.I.T. to continue at Kilauea the work of recording the volcanic activity along the lines started by Perret.

Jaggar arrived in Honolulu and met with the HVRA executive committee on January 9, 1912, and then proceeded to the Volcano House on the rim of Kilauea caldera to go to work as the director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory on January 17, 1912. On January 18, using data collected from the Volcano House guest registers and other sources, he renewed the weekly reports to Thurston's Advertiser. Although Jaggar had married Helen Kline in 1903 and the couple had two children, Helen did not accompany Jaggar to accept his post as director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in 1911, and a divorce followed. In 1917 Jaggar married a coworker at HVO, Isabel P. Maydwell; she was his wife, assistant, and companion for the rest of his life.

On January 19, Demosthenes Lycurgus, representing Thurston's Volcano House Company, went with Jaggar to Hilo to visit the merchants and leading citizens. Their mission was to raise funds to build a laboratory on the rim of Kilauea caldera for use by representatives of M.I.T. engaged in volcanologic research (Jaggar, 1917a). The $1,785 the merchants and private citizens of Hilo subscribed resulted in the contract with the Hilo Branch of H. Hackfeld & Company, Ltd., to build the forms and pour the concrete for what was soon to be called the Whitney Laboratory of Seismology and to build above the vault a building for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. In essence, the merchants of Hilo provided funds for these initial rimside facilities; the HVRA, with heavy reliance on M.I.T., promised operating funds for the first five years. Until the new facilities were built, Jaggar's first home and office at Kilauea were in the Volcano House.

ABSTRACT
INTRODUCTION
JAGGER AND THURSTON: BACKGROUND
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

PIONEERING, 1912-1953

BUILDINGS AND FACILITIES
TECHNOLOGY STATION (1911-1918)
INSTRUMENT HOUSES
WHITNEY LABORATORY OF SEISMOLOGY (1912-PRESENT)
OTHER FACILITIES
BUILDING 41 (1940-PRESENT)
BUILDING 131 AT UWEKAHUNA (1927-PRESENT)
NEW BUILDING AT UWEKAHUNA (1985-PRESENT)

PUBLICATIONS AND DOCUMENTS

VOLCANO EXPERIMENTS

MAUNA LOA
ACCESS ROUTES AND FACILITIES
THE 1926 ERUPTION
CONTROLLING LAVA FLOWS

THE OHIKI AND OTHER EXPERIMENTS

SEISMOLOGY
INSTRUMENTS
TRAVEL TIMES OF EARTHQUAKE WAVES
SCALES OF EARTHQUAKE INTENSITY
TSUNAMIS

TILT

SCIENCE AND THE PUBLIC

REFERENCES CITED

HomeVolcano WatchProductsPhoto GalleryPress Releases
How Hawaiian Volcanoes Work