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June 3, 1999

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


Carl Thornber leaves HVO

Over the years HVO has attempted to maintain its scientific energy, enthusiasm, and insights by melding a permanent staff with a smaller cadre of rotating, research-oriented scientists. The observatory has about one rotating researcher for every four or five permanent staff. Rotating scientists generally stay 3-5 years. The permanent staff continues long-term monitoring and retains institutional memory; the rotating staff brings in fresh ideas, techniques, and renewed thirst for discovery. Rotation has the added benefit of training a large number of volcanologists who can respond quickly in a time of crisis without negatively impacting the core HVO staff. The rotation scheme is becoming difficult to maintain because of cutbacks in the USGS workforce, but it remains the ideal.

Rotation has a downside, however. It means that, over the years, we've had to say good-bye to lots of colleagues. It's happening again this week, as Carl and Mary Thornber head for their new workplace and home, the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington. Carl has been a member of the HVO staff since 1994 and, true to the goals of rotation, has enlivened the observatory with new ideas and focused energy on the current eruption. His innovativeness and willingness to try new technology led to the development of a "tube tattler," a temperature device that tells us remotely when lava is flowing through a tube. He spearheaded the effort to use video cameras for research purposes at the eruption site, so that now, during good viewing conditions, we at HVO can watch activity in the crater of Pu`u `O`o and correlate it to data obtained from seismic or deformation monitoring.

Carl has spent a lot of time thinking about how magma moves underground from beneath Kilauea caldera to Pu`u `O`o. He is currently studying the details of changing chemical compositions and temperatures of the lava in hopes of better understanding the nature of the plumbing between the caldera and the eruption site. Carl has also been instrumental in evaluating observations of the eruption made from orbiting satellites against those made on the ground; this is a necessary step before satellite-based observations can be routinely used for eruption monitoring.

The value of a team member often goes far beyond what can be listed on an objective performance appraisal. Such is the case with Carl. His infectious, indefatigable enthusiasm boosts staff morale, and his famous one-liners enliven weekly staff meetings. Carl has rarely encountered a microphone he didn't like, and his numerous educational (and entertaining) performances on national and international TV programs have shone both HVO and the USGS in good light. Inspired by Paul Simon, Carl's characterization of the ongoing eruption as "still flowing after all these years" is legendary and gave rise to the title of an otherwise stodgy scientific publication.

After hours, Carl and Mary are famous for their St. Patrick's Day parties and their close and affectionate ties to the many volunteers who cycle through HVO each year. They have become an integral part of the HVO tapestry, and it seems trite to say that HVO will miss them greatly. Troupers they are, and so we wish them the troupers' farewell, "Break a leg, you guys!"

Carl's replacement is not yet settled. With staff cutbacks and overall downsizing, it is not even certain that there will be a replacement. Rotation at HVO may slowly be grinding to a halt, though most of us realize the undesirability of such a fate.

Eruption Update

Eruptive activity of Kilauea Volcano continued unabated during the past week. Lava is erupting from Pu`u `O`o and flowing through a network of tubes from the vent to the sea. Surface flows from breakouts of the tube system were observed on the coastal flats. Lava is entering the ocean near Kamokuna and enlarging the bench. The public is reminded that the ocean-entry area is extremely hazardous, with explosions accompanying unpredictable collapses of the new land. The steam clouds are highly acidic and laced with glass particles.

A magnitude-4.4 earthquake at 1:41 a.m. on June 3 was felt by residents throughout the Big Island. The earthquake was located 13 km (7.8 mi) east of Waimea at a depth of 38.3 km (23 mi).

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Updated: 14 June 1999