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Volunteer program of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

Volunteer Experience with the USGS Volcano Web Group

Jennifer Adleman on the Mauna Loa Volcano summit
At the summit of Mauna Loa
By: Jennifer N. Adleman

BS in Geological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

In March of 1999 I first visited the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory as part of a field-trip course through my department. Even then, I never imagined I would get the opportunity to spend almost four months working, living and traveling in this area. 

The route I took to get here is somewhat fuzzy even now. I remember applying through a USGS agency volunteer website; never seeing the one specifically for HVO until I got here! My background in geology and public education lent itself well to the web projects proposed to me by one of the webmasters at HVO. However, I had never made a website--never even tried! I knew no html, not much by way of servers and wasn't exactly thrilled by the prospects of spending so much time in front of a computer. Luckily - that really didn't matter in the long run!

I arrived and immediately began to work on the two of the projects that would consume most of my time here. I began to learn the ropes of html and web-building programs by adding the weekly photo additions to the Kilauea update page. Talk about a fast learning curve! In less that a week I felt like a pro at this, sorting through and taking images, adding text, coding, and then accessing the networks and servers needed to get the update posted. The web's a really cool medium - almost instant gratification, especially when we're trying to get current information accessible to the public.

My second project (which seems somewhat endless) was to begin the coding and legwork needed to piece together an international interagency website on ash-hazard management. This was very different from the Kilauea update, which basically involved me doing a lot of cutting and pasting of html; now I was generating the code, and trying to figure out the best way to design the site. A site of this type doesn't exist yet, and that's one of the things that attracted me to the project. Unlike sitting in a programming class doing practice websites or posting pictures of my summer vacation - here I am generating a site for global use, to help people and communicate important information on volcanic hazards. This project also allowed me to meet and discuss ash-hazard management and mitigation with people all over the world in a variety of different fields. I feel I have been able to make some great connections that I will keep throughout my career.

Jenn at the active Kamokuna ocean entry, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i.
At the ocean entry, Kilauea volcano

As far as my fears of being trapped behind a computer for four months in Hawai'i, all were blown to the winds! My job required me to get out into the field; to get images and generate reports on the current volcanic activity of Kilauea. I would bet I made it out to the flow field at least once a week! I also took advantage of my living arrangements with volunteers in other groups at HVO. I went into the field to collect gas samples from the crater on Kilauea, I helped revamp a geodetic information station on the flanks of Kilauea, and I accompanied the electronics guys half-way up Mauna Loa to put concrete in place for new instruments. 

Several other volunteers and I went up Mauna Kea to look at deep mantle xenoliths and were able to tour a few of the Mauna Kea Astronomical Observatories and see their telescopes. I also went with a geologist on a helicopter flight over the steaming vent to he ocean entry and back. We landed on the active vent and mapped a small portion of it.

Break time at the summit of Mauna Loa
Break time at the summit of Mauna Loa
Red cinder cones on mauna Loa.
Red cinder cones on Mauna Loa

Several volunteers and I accompanied HVO staff to the summit of Mauna Loa, where we discussed and mapped explosive deposits. We discussed Mauna Loa's recent caldera activity and the hazards that the volcano poses to the two largest communities on the Big Island, Hilo and Kailua-Kona.


Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
Beach and snorkel at Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
Green Sea Turtle at Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
Green Sea Turtle at Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

Weekends were generally filled with island traveling! As a collective group - the volunteers could easily rent a car and a campsite for the weekend. I think by now I've been around the entire island four times or more. Beaches are always a popular destination - but do we do green, black or white sand this time? Ahh - isn't life rough. Snorkeling and hiking were second and third on the list of things to head down from our mountains to go and do. We also made it to local festivals, luaus and farmer's markets quite often.

Living in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park has its advantages as well. Numerous hiking trails are right outside the door! There are several other agencies that have volunteers living in our neighborhood - and more often than not we'll have dinner or a party together; we hike and travel with people from these other agencies too. 


Pahoehoe flows my last week, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i
Pahoehoe flows during my last week, Kilauea
`A`a channel my last week, Kilauea volcano, Hawai`i
`A`a channel during my last week, Kilauea

In some areas life is dictated by the weather or the traffic, the work week or the holiday. Here were live and breathe by the lava activity! Over the course of my four months here, September through December 2000, I have seen incredible activity. 

I've been here for a pause in the flow, for ocean entry, bench collapse, surface flow on the coastal plain, rives of `a`a and pahoehoe on the pali! Believe it or not - my job was to report this activity - to get out there - take pictures, get facts and figures and make the information accessible to anyone with web access. Not to mention the numerous groups of visitors HVO was asked to guide to the flow field. I met teachers in the JASON program, USGS from all over the country, and student groups from Hawai'i and New Zealand, just to name a few.

All in all, I wasn't stuck behind a computer, and when I was - it was to share all the information I and others had on the current Kilauea eruption. Or it was to work on a site designed to help people safely prepare for, live through, and clean-up after volcanic ash fall. All in all, HVO has been one of the most challenging, rewarding, and thrilling experiences I have had.

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Updated: 27 December 2000 (JNA)