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August 5, 2010

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

Ken Honma retires from HVO after almost 40 years of service

Ken Honma, shown here in August 1973, repaired stations and replaced batteries at remote seismic stations to keep the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory seismic network running smoothly.
Ken Honma, an electronics technician with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory for almost 40 years, retired from the U.S. Geological Survey on July 31, 2010.
Left. Ken Honma, shown here in August 1973, repaired stations and replaced batteries at remote seismic stations to keep the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory seismic network running smoothly.Right. Ken Honma, an electronics technician with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory for almost 40 years, retired from the U.S. Geological Survey on July 31, 2010.

Last week, Ken Honma bid farewell to friends and colleagues at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) as he retired from a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) career that spanned almost four decades.

Ken, who was born and raised in Volcano, began working at HVO in 1970, the year he graduated from Hilo High School. He started as a geologic field assistant, which involved "doing a bit of everything," but soon transitioned to physical science aide and then physical science technician as he become more knowledgeable about seismic equipment repair.

In the early 1970s, HVO's seismic network consisted of fewer than 15 stations that were physically connected to HVO by miles of cable and powered by automotive batteries. To keep the network running, Ken spent a lot of time driving to remote locations to repair stations, replace batteries, and splice damaged cables.

Through this on-the-job experience and by reading books on the subject, Ken increased his knowledge of and skills in electronics, and, in 1974, achieved permanent status as a USGS electronics technician. As such, he helped create HVO's present seismic network, which consists of more than 50 stations that are powered by rechargeable solar systems and transmit data to HVO by radio telemetry.

Ken describes the 1980s as an interesting time for electronics. Telemetry equipment was either too expensive to purchase or not available, so the USGS built its own instruments. This led Ken, who is naturally curious and self-motivated, to take on the challenge of learning how to design electronic equipment and circuitry. In 1986, he completed an accredited correspondence course, earning an electronics engineering diploma.

Ken's many contributions to the USGS are not limited to Hawai`i. In the early spring of 1980, he traveled to Washington, where he was in charge of installing electronic tiltmeters and figuring out how to telemeter monitoring data from the increasingly restless Mount St. Helens.

On the morning of Sunday, May 18, 1980, Ken was scheduled to fly out to work on Mount St. Helens but his team mate never showed up. Later, he was stunned to see breaking news reports that Mount St. Helens had just erupted with a catastrophic explosion that killed 57 people.

Being young, Ken says that he didn't really think about it at the time. Today, he realizes that, had he been dropped off on the slopes of Mount St. Helens as scheduled, things could have ended badly for him. Fortunately, they did not.

In 1981, following the eruption of Pagan, Ken traveled to the Northern Marianas to install monitoring equipment on the volcano. While there, he experienced another close call when live ordnance (from an early military presence), buried by lava, exploded beneath a trail that he had crossed just minutes earlier.

In 1982, Ken went to Indonesia, where he set up monitoring instruments on Merapi and Galunggung volcanoes. He recalls that trip vividly for two reasons: (1) he was newly married and had to leave his wife, Lori, on her own in Hawai`i, and (2) he was humbled by the character of the Indonesian people, who survived on so little with grace and humor following Galunggung's devastating eruption that year.

Since the early 1990s, Ken has been HVO's supervisory and lead electronic technician. He has developed a team whose skills and expertise are integral to expanding and upgrading HVO's seismic network and producing quality data. To keep electronic instruments running with minimal outages, he knew his team had to approach seismic network maintenance systematically. Through an ongoing process, they are striving toward a sustainable system based on a constant-improvement-cycle business model. Ken considers this to be one of his greatest accomplishments.

Musing over his 39 years and 9 months at HVO, Ken commented that there were, and will always be, many changes in technology and equipment. The constant, however, is people. "In the end," he said, "it's all about the people and your relationship with them."

The people who remain behind at HVO thank Ken for his years of service and wish him all the best in his retirement. Our loss is his dog Jozi's gain. Enjoy your long walks!

Kīlauea Activity Update

Surface flow activity near Kalapana slowed substantially over the past week, and, as of Thursday, August 12, no active breakouts were reported in the vicinity of the Kalapana Gardens subdivision. Instead, most of the lava activity was focused at a single ocean entry—the Puhi-o-Kalaikini entry—southwest of Kalapana Gardens. The Puhi-o-Kalaikini entry has built a relatively narrow delta that spans about 900 m (2,950 ft) of coastline. An ongoing deflation/inflation (DI) cycle at Kīlauea's summit may cause the ocean entry to temporarily diminish in size.

At Kīlauea's summit, a circulating lava pond deep in the collapse pit within the floor of Halema`uma`u Crater was visible via the Webcam throughout the past week. Volcanic gas emissions remain elevated, resulting in high concentrations of sulfur dioxide downwind.

No earthquakes beneath Hawai`i Island were reported felt during the past week.

Visit our Web site ( for detailed Kīlauea and Mauna Loa activity updates, recent volcano photos, recent earthquakes, and more; call (808) 967-8862 for a Kīlauea activity summary; email questions to

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Updated: August 18, 2010 (pnf)