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In Memoriam, Robert W. Decker 1927 - 2005

Bob Decker pacing off a known distance to measure the speed of this `a`a flow advancing in Royal GardensThe HVO staff mourn the loss of one of our extended family. Dr. Robert (Bob) Decker, Scientist-in-Charge from 1979-1984, died at home in Mariposa, California, on June 11, 2005, following a sudden, unexpected downturn in his fight against cancer.

Bob and Barbara Decker, Christmas 1980 While Bob was a major influence on HVO and the volcanology of Hawai'i in general, he was a highly regarded and respected presence in volcanology worldwide. He pioneered physical volcanology work in Alaska, the Cascades, Central America, Iceland, and Indonesia. From 1975-1979, he served as the president of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior (IAVCEI), the main organization to which almost all volcanologists belong.

Bob shaped much of the current Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. He organized HVO staff into our current internal organization at a time when staff had grown enough to need it. Due to daily inquiries about our work from the public, he started writing a weekly column for Hawaii Tribune-Herald that we have continued as the "Volcano Watch" more than 20 years later. He saw the need for a comprehensive collection of all the scientific papers written about Hawaiian volcanoes at HVO that now contains nearly 14,000 listings. His favorite effort, according to Barbara, his wife of over 30 years, is the creation of the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes, the main cooperator and educational arm of HVO, at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo.

Robert W. Decker on the phone at his desk, March 19, 1984

We are fortunate that Bob chose to work in Hawai'i and introduced so many innovative technologies very early. For example, he started using lasers to measure the change in distance across Moku'aweoweo caldera on Mauna Loa in 1965. Because of his early start, we have a record of the caldera's widening before the last two eruptions in 1975 and 1984. Those data are crucial to our confidence in forecasting the next Mauna Loa eruption. While we do not believe that an eruption is imminent, we know that it is coming. When Mauna Loa does erupt, Bob will be there in spirit through his many legacies.

Archive of previous feature stories

  panorama of Hualalai volcano with Kohala and Mauna Kea in background
Photograph by E. Endo
May 12, 2005
The Big Island of Hawaii is made up of five volcanoes, Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea. From the top of Hualalai Volcano, you get a spectacular view of the other volcanoes on the Big Island, (and Haleakala on Maui).
Hualalai is the third youngest and third-most historically active volcano on the Island of Hawai`i. Six different vents erupted lava between the late 1700s and 1801, two of which generated lava flows that poured into the sea on the west coast of the island. The Keahole Airport, located 11 km north of Kailua-Kona, is built on the most recent flow. For information on Hualalai, click here.

Top: Spectacular view of the panorama from Hualalai volcano, looking at Kohala Mountain on the left and Mauna Kea volcano on the right. Look closely to the far left on the large image, and you will see Kawaihae Harbor between Kohala Mountain and Hualalai.

Bottom: Road on Hualalai, looking at Mauna Loa volcano.

Archive of Featured Photographs

  Road on Hualalai with Mauna Loa in background
Photograph by E. Endo
May 12, 2005


More Volcano Information from HVO and Beyond

Earthquake seismogramReport a felt earthquake to HVO using this form.
More USGS Volcano Web sites

Volcano WatchCurrent issue of Volcano Watch essay, written weekly by USGS scientists.
National Park ServiceHawai`i Volcanoes National Park, home to HVO. Find visitor information and resources here. Graphic: Kids DoorVolcanoes for kids, from the Volcano World website.
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U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, California, USA
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Last modification: Monday, 21 June 2005 (pnf)