USGS
Hawaiian Volcano 
Observatory


VOLCANO EXPERIMENTS

The comparatively easy access at Kilauea to a variety of ongoing volcanic activities stimulated and encouraged experiments, ranging from the serious scientific to the decidedly frivolous. Visitors from America and Europe fried eggs in pans that rested on moving lava flows, learned how to thrust their cigarettes and Cuban cigars into hot cracks to light them (nonsmokers lit ends of sticks in the same cracks), embedded coins in small pieces of pasty rock, and scorched the edges of postcards on hot lava before the cards were mailed home. The Volcano House supplied eggs, pans, and postcards, as well as the guide who kept hotel guests safe while performing these feats in or near Halemaumau. The guide, Alex Lancaster, probably wound up each trip into Kilauea caldera with one pocket full of tips and another full of Cuban cigars--until Jaggar put him on the Observatory's payroll as janitor, guide, and general roustabout. Lancaster's experiences close to Kilauea's flowing and fountaining lava made him a good hand for Jaggar.

Lorrin Thurston helped Jaggar to take temperatures, sample gases, and measure depths. On January 11, 1917, Thurston and his assistants helped Jaggar thrust a length of galvanized-iron pipe through the solid crust of the lava lake to take a temperature reading 1 m (3 ft) down. At the end of the pipe was a metal cylinder that contained six cones of fusible clays which melted at temperatures in a range from 900 to 1,150 C. After the end of the pipe had been held in place for six minutes, the crew withdrew the pipe, with difficulty. Softened by heat, the pipe had bent sharply at the point where it pierced the crust, and its end was weighted with the pasty lava that clung to it. None of the clay cones had melted, and Jaggar concluded that the temperature 1 m down was lower than 900 C. In view of more recent data, this seems unlikely. Probably the clay samples did not reach equilibrium temperatures.

Then Thurston wanted to try an experiment. He had lugged two large pieces of ohia wood out to Halemaumau to toss into the lava lake to see what would happen. Jaggar duly recorded the results for posterity (Jaggar, 1917c): Both logs burned after sinking below the surface. There were abundant yellow flames and puffs of smoke that ballooned the surface crust a bit.

In 1925, Jaggar conceived a plan to bore holes, 3 m (10 ft) deep and 300 m (1,000 ft) apart at corners of equilateral triangles, on the floors of Kilauea caldera, Kilauea Iki Crater, and Keanakakoi Crater, as well as on the surfaces surrounding them. Temperatures at the bottoms of the holes were to be taken, so that isothermal lines could be drawn on a map of the region. The holes would then be sealed so that periodic rechecks could detect changes in the temperature of the bedrock.

In preparation, J.C. Bean, USGS topographic engineer, surveyed the borehole network from December 1925 through May 1926. An air-driven hammer drill, air compressor, truck, some "tested thermometers," a high-speed camera, and some up-to-date surveying instruments were acquired for the project. Drilling got underway in 1926 but was discontinued during the winter of 1927-28 after 30 holes had been drilled. Results were apparently inconclusive or disappointing; no results were ever published. In retrospect, the 1925-28 project can be considered pioneering, but the real pioneering was an earlier drilling in 1922, described in the various monthly issues of the HVO Bulletin for that year. John Brooks Henderson of Washington, D.C., gave Jaggar $3,000 to begin boring experiments. Local gifts from Hawaii raised the total to $8,000. Honolulu driller A.H. Hobart was hired to use an impact or "churn" drill for three months; HVO was to supply the water needed for the drill and to transport all supplies to the drill sites. By April 1922, HVO had evolved the world's first dune buggy--a Ford touring car modified, as described by Jaggar (1922a, p. 32), by "doubling each rear wheel and fitting a pair of wide non-skid pneumatic tires to each doublet; this gave to each rear driving roller eight inches of grooved rubber traction surface, including a small air space between each pair of wheels. The double wheels were made by bolting two ordinary wheels together with a wooden disc between. A rear axle planetary gear system was added, giving three extra low gear ratios in addition to the usual two forward speeds and one reverse. All unnecessary weight of fenders, steps and doors was removed, and at rear end of car was placed a drawbar and shackle and an extra heavy spring. This converted the car into a general utility vehicle for use both as tractor and conveyance for men and supplies, devised to travel over any ordinary rough lava or on the surface of deep gravels where a common truck would dig in and be stalled."

This vehicle hauled supplies and men over sand, gravel, and billowy pahoehoe lava. A new Caterpillar tractor was also tried on lava and then modified to front-wheel steering. Rubber tires went on its rear wheels. It was used as a stationary engine to drive a generator and as a tractor to haul water barrels on sleds to drillsites. Boring began May 1, 1922. Hole 1 was at the east corner of Sulphur Bank. The nearby Volcano House supplied water from its tanks, transported in barrels lashed to sleds hauled by the tractor. Casings and tools were skidded to Sulphur Bank behind the touring car.

A kerosene engine powered the rig to deliver 40-50 strokes per minute to a blunt-chisel bit of 6-in. diameter. The bit was turned by hand; water was supplied to the hole also by hand--about 101/2 gallons per foot. A bucket was used occasionally to clean the hole bottom. Burlap sacking was wound around the mouth of the well to protect the drillers and machine from hot acid fumes. Eventually a wooden plug was devised for the wellhead that let the cable through but kept most of the fumes in. The cable and other steel parts were frequently painted with crude petroleum to protect them from the fumes.

The temperature was taken by a maximum thermometer lowered the 7 m (22 ft) to the bottom of Hole I and exposed five minutes; it read 96 C. This reading was later checked by an Alumel-Chromel thermoelement and potentiometer and checked again with another maximum thermometer of a different make.

The churn-drill rig was moved about 45 m (140 ft) to start Hole 2, also at Sulphur Bank. Drilling started June 1, 1922, with heavy steaming from the hole. Troubles with the boring limited downward progress to five days out of ten. At 6 m (20 ft) the hole was cased, and the bit diameter reduced from 8 to 7 in. Another reduction to 6 in. and casing came at 12.8 m (42 ft), but the tools became wedged and broke a camshaft and gear wheel. The field forge failed to heat and temper the steel bits properly--they had to be sent to a sugar-plantation forge at Mountain View, 30 km (19 mi) away. At 13 m (43 ft) steam greatly increased, and at 15.2 m (50 ft) "all sludge and water disappeared in an east-west crack across bottom of hole" (Jaggar, 1922b, p. 64). The hole was complete at a depth of 15.2 m (50 ft) on June 12, 1922. Hole 2's temperature was also about 96 C. Pipe of 7-in. diameter was set in concrete to protrude a few inches and covered with a screw cap. "In a few weeks the inner surfaces of the iron were black with sulphide; and free sulphur crystals formed" (Jaggar, 1922b, p. 64). A shed of corrugated-iron sheets was built over Hole 2's wellhead; stacked rocks now cover it.

On August 22, 1922, Eugene T. Allen of the Geophysical Laboratory in Washington tested the gases of Hole 2 and was impressed that drill holes acted like natural fumaroles to serve as vents for escaping gases.

Hole 3 was near the center of Kilauea caldera's floor on the 1894 lava flow and in line with the 1920 Kau Desert rift. To make it possible to deliver water, rig, casings, supplies, and drillers, off-duty soldiers from Kilauea Military Camp were hired for four days to beat a rough track from the end of the road near Halemaumau to the drillsite. Meteorologist R.H. Finch, Jaggar's assistant, saw to it that the soldiers made a track over which the modified touring car and tractor could pass, albeit slowly. Hole 3 was drilled to 24 m (79 ft), and the temperature at the bottom was 69 C.

Because churn-drill holes sometimes went crooked, tools stuck, and bits dulled rapidly, Jaggar wanted to try a rotary-drill rig. One was surplus to the needs of the Hutchinson Sugar Company, and HVO purchased it on June 22, 1922. It was a Davis Calyx "shot" Drill, model BF4, capable of boring a hole of 4-in. diameter to a depth of 300 m (1,000 ft). As it dug, the tube rotated and made a core; in practice, however, the lava rock fragmented, and satisfactory cores were rare and short. Hole 4 was on the grounds of the Observatory, along the north rim of Kilauea. A drill tower 12 m (38 ft) high was part of the package purchased and was assembled on the rim. A shed, with an opening through the roof for the cables, was built about its base to shelter the drillers.

Water in quantity was required for this drill--241 gallons per foot of progress--and the water-storage facilities of HVO were needed to supply it. As drilling proceeded, voids and openings between layers of lava were met that caused frequent loss of water pressure. These hydraulic problems had been solved by October 1922, however, and a depth of 20 m (65 ft) was reached. Bottom temperature was 97 C. Hole 4 was the well referred to by Jaggar in 1941 as being beneath the lobby of the new Volcano House. The capping of this hole in November 1922 ended HVO's first pioneer efforts at scientific drilling.

ABSTRACT
INTRODUCTION
JAGGER AND THURSTON: BACKGROUND
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

BEGINNINGS OF THE OBSERVATORY

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

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

HomeVolcano WatchProductsPhoto GalleryPress Releases
How Hawaiian Volcanoes Work