Magazine article Science News

The Volcano Watcher

Magazine article Science News

The Volcano Watcher

Article excerpt

Matt Patrick's office is perched not far from the summit of Hawaii's busiest volcano: Kilauea. When it erupts, he has a good view. Of course, it's his job to see every possible vista of the peak, whether it's flying over in a helicopter, hiking to fissures and along lava fields or checking webcams, seismometers and satellites. Working at the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, Patrick is part of a team that monitors the volcano's every tremor, eruption, burp of gas and lava path. This diligence helps researchers track potential danger and understand the details of a volcano's inner workings.

"Working on an active volcano is a pretty special opportunity," Patrick says. And for the first time in at least 200 years, there's major action at two different places on Kilauea. "We've had eruptions going on at the summit and East Rift Zone, going on for years," he says. "And with the quality of data we're collecting, it gets better every day."

One of Patrick's specialties is the use of thermal cameras, which see through eruption fumes and can show clearly where a lava field is newest and thus most likely to continue flowing. Before joining the observatory in 2007, he used thermal images to spot signs of upcoming eruptions on Alaskan and Russian volcanoes and to track eruptions at Italy's Stromboli. Now he spies on Halemaumau, the eruption crater resting at Kilauea's summit. The work is revealing that the crater's lava lake and the East Rift Zone may be physically connected. …

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