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September 17, 1998

A weekly feature provided by scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.


Volcanoes and biology?complex interactions battle to save our biological resources

With this article, ?Volcano Watch? broadens its scope to include items of biological interest related to Hawai`i volcanoes. Once every two months, the column will focus on topics that relate to the interplay of biological resources with volcanic activity. We hope that this will help drive home the significance of volcanism in Hawai`i. Not only does volcanic activity create the land on which we live, but it also exerts considerable influence over plants and animals living in and on that land.

The organizations responsible for managing the nation?s biological resources include the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, certain State agencies, the Nature Conservancy, and even private landowners whose lands harbor endangered species. Military reservations must also, by law, manage their biological resources. But management requires information, and management agencies are not mandated by law to acquire this information through research. The Biological Resources Division (BRD) of the U.S. Geological Survey, working in conjunction with other Federal, State and private organizations, has been given this research mandate.

In 1996 the USGS acquired BRD, formerly the National Biological Service. BRD has 17 centers located across the country that are responsible for providing information on the biological resources of the nation. One center, the Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center (PIERC), is located in Hawai`i. Its mandate is to provide biological information on all U.S. holdings in the Pacific, including Hawai`i.

PIERC has three permanent research stations. One is the Manoa Cooperative Field Station, co-located on the University of Hawai`i campus with the PIERC headquarters. Another is located at Haleakala National Park. The largest, Kilauea Field Station (KFS), is located in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. About 30 scientists, technicians, and administrators?supported by volunteers, students, and interns?conduct some 45 projects a year at the three field stations.

The work done at Kilauea Field Station, directly across the caldera from HVO, has been going on largely unnoticed for about 20 years, first as separate National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entities and, since 1996, as a combined biological research station of BRD- PIERC.

Past projects have included gathering information on the distribution and density of endangered forest birds at Hakalau Preserve, the endangered palila and Hawai`i silversword plants in the Saddle Road area of Mauna Kea, the `alala on the Kona side, bird disease in various forested areas, and rare plant associations with lava flows in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. Many more are in progress.

KFS and the other field stations use a variety of techniques to accomplish this work, including satellite imaging processes, building of biological databases, use of Geographic Information System and Global Positioning System (GIS/GPS) data for mapping and overlay studies, telemetry, and standard ecological field techniques. PIERC also helped start, and continues to support, the Native Hawaiian student intern program operated out of the Sea Grant office on the University of Hawai`i at Hilo campus; students of this program participate in Hawaiian research projects.

Providing information to fight the battles to save Hawaiian animals and plants is not easy. This war, which includes stopping alien invasions, such as miconia and kahili ginger, can not be won without public support. Watch this column in the future for more in-depth reports about the individual battles in this war and about how volcanoes and biology interact in extremely complex ways to create Hawai`i?s unique ecosystem.

Eruption and Earthquake Update

There was no change in the eruptive activity at the Pu`u `O`o vent during the past week. Lava continues to flow through a network of tubes from the vent to the sea coast and enters the ocean in two locations near Kamokuna. The public is reminded that the ocean entry areas are extremely hazardous, with explosions accompanying frequent collapses of the lava delta. The steam clouds are highly acidic and laced with glass particles.

An earthquake at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, September 16, was reported felt by residents of Laupahoehoe and Pa`auilo. The magnitude 3.4 earthquake was located 8 km (4.8 mi) offshore (north) of Kukuihaele at a depth of 35 km (21 mi).

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Updated: 2 Oct 1998