Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

Volunteer Experience with the Seismic & Electronics Group

Rob Squire above pali, Kilauea Volcano
By: Robert Squire

Resource Management major, College of Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Services at Minnesota State University-Mankato

Since August 1, 2000, I have been working with the Electronics and Seismic group. The mission statement of the team is to provide quality earth-science information for public safety through professional electronic installations and repairs of seismic instrumentation. There are approximately 60 seismic stations on the Big Island, and 3 stations on the island of Maui, that record most types of ground movement and ground activity.

When a volunteer works for the electronics group, they get a chance to travel around the island quite a bit, and this offers them more opportunities to see the different climates and beautiful landscapes here. Since there are approximately 60 seismic stations here, I have had a chance to see areas of the island that most people never get to see. Job tasks and projects are constantly changing, so nothing gets old or repetitious. I would estimate that in the electronics group, 70% of the experience is fieldwork, and the other 30% is preparation for projects and assignments. Many of the 60 stations are in remote locations. This means that a four-wheel drive vehicle, or even a helicopter flight is required to access the station. Usually, every volunteer gets to go on at least one helicopter flight while they are volunteering for HVO.

Lava flow on Pulama pali
Lava flow on Pulama pali

There are many things to see and do here on the Big Island. We work Monday through Friday, and the weekends are our own time. Hiking down to the lava flows has been quite an experience. I actually got to see a flow break over the pali on September 8th. I have never seen anything so amazing. There was  a raging river of molten lava roaring down the side of the Pulama pali. Although the lava flows are definitely a thing to see while here, there are many other things to see and do. Just a few activities we have done include hiking through the beautiful Waipio Valley, snorkeling in Hilo, Kona, and Pu'u Honua O Honaunau, camping at Hapuna Beach, relaxing in the hot ponds in Kapoho, seeing the enormous telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea, cave exploring, SCUBA diving, and golfing at various courses around the island.

Another great aspect of being a volunteer for the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is the vast amount of people you meet from all different walks of life. During my stay here, I have worked, and made friends with, other volunteers from all over the world. The electronics team is very easy-going, cool, and flexible. Because of this,  I have been able to join other departments and learn about other projects that they are currently working on and monitoring.

When I was about half way through my experience, we were having some problems with one of the three stations in Maui. I was fortunate enough to go along with Steven to check and repair the stations. We were in Maui for one week. The three seismic stations are located on Haleakala Volcano. The station we repaired (Kanahau) is located near the summit. While we were there, we inspected and calibrated the other two stations, which are at lower elevations around the base of Haleakala. The trip there was a success, as everything is still working properly and hopefully will continue to do so for years to come.

Seismic station on East Maui Volcano
Seismic station on  Haleakala Volcano

Lupe (another volunteer) and I have been working on the upgrading of three seismic stations. These three stations will house new seismometers called FBA's or Force Balanced Accelerometers. We constructed hollow tile boxes at two different locations. This style of box is made to last longer than a standard fiberglass box. The new boxes have a separate inner slab of concrete that the FBA unit sits on.? This is done in order to isolate the instrumentation from the rest of the box in an effort to reduce excess noise that the unit could pick up.

Another project Lupe and I were involved in was the development of a venting system on some of the existing hollow tile boxes. Some of the seismic stations are located in very humid areas. We noticed there was an excessive amount of moisture that would accumulate on the inside lids of the boxes, causing a lot of corrosion to the wire terminals and other parts of the electronic equipment. Lupe designed a vent on each side of the box that would allow the inside temperature and outside temperature of the box to remain relatively the same. After some experiments, we went ahead and upgraded a few boxes in different locations with the new ventilation system. Upon regular check-ups, we noticed that there is no longer moisture that accumulates in the boxes.  These new vents will give the equipment in the boxes a longer life, reduce the number of man hours spent on repairing the stations, and save on the overall costs of replacing the electronic equipment.

Steven led a project down at the South Point field site at the end of August. There was a group of six of us that participated in the upgrade of this station. The main objective we had was to install a new repeater box that Steven had designed. Along with installing the new box, there were other tasks to be done. RF cable ends were terminated, seismometers were installed and aligned, signal strength measurements were recorded, new batteries were installed, and the solar system was checked to see if it was working properly.

Repairing seismic station on Kilauea Volcano
Repairing seismic station on Kilauea Volcano

The electronics team is a great group of people to work with. Hats off to Ken, Bruce, and Steven for making my experience everything that it could be and more. They know a lot about seismology/electronics and have been very patient and supportive during my volunteer experience. I have learned a great deal of information from all of them and the rest of the HVO staff. If anyone out there who may be reading this is looking for an internship or practicum for their education, or if you just want to have an incredible experience working on a volcano, this is definitely a place to expand your knowledge and learn about volcanism, seismology, and electronics.

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Updated: January 31 2012 14:30:25