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Volcano Awareness Month talks scheduled at UHH

January is Volcano Awareness Month, and Kilauea Volcano will be the focus of two talks presented at the University of Hawaii at Hilo in the coming weeks.

On Thursday, Jan. 9, Don Swanson, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, will talk about his work on solving the puzzle of human footprints preserved in Kilauea ash deposits.

On Thursday, Jan. 16, Carolyn Parcheta, a volcanologist from UH-Manoa, will present findings from her study of fissure eruptions on Kilauea.

Both presentations are free and begin at 7 p.m. in the University Classroom Building Room 100, on the UH-Hilo main campus at 200 W. Kawili St. in Hilo. A campus map is online at

Kilauea Volcano erupted violently in 1790 — its largest explosive eruption in 1,000 years — spewing ash that blanketed an extensive area downwind of the summit vent. Swanson has spent more than 10 years of field work trying to answer questions about the human footprints preserved in these ash deposits.

According to Swanson, the footprints were left by people walking on muddy volcanic ash likely deposited within several hours of the 1790 eruption, which killed as many as several hundred people.

“Probably some of the people who died during the eruption left the footprints we see today,” he said.

He added most of the people who left footprints were women and children. He will share how he reached this conclusion and discuss the still-unanswered questions about the footprints in his Jan. 9 presentation.

Copies of a USGS Fact Sheet, “Kilauea — An Explosive Volcano in Hawaii,” written by Swanson and his research colleagues, will be distributed at his talk. The fact sheet is also available online at

Fissure eruptions frequently occur on Hawaiian volcanoes and are the most common style of eruption on Earth. Yet, because of their complexity, they are not well understood. Parcheta, in collaboration with HVO geologists, took on the challenge of figuring out how fissure eruptions work.

According to Parcheta, understanding what happens during a fissure eruption can help determine how magma behaves below ground seconds to minutes before it erupts, as well as how lava creates new surface features after it is erupted.

“We are learning how magma and gas work together to form the lava fountains erupted from fissures, and how that lava then produces lava flows, spatter cones and other features associated with fissure eruptions,” she said.

Parcheta will talk about her investigations of the 2011 Kamoamoa and 1969 Mauna Ulu fissure eruptions and what she discovered from them in her Jan. 16 presentation.

These UH-Hilo presentations are two of many programs offered by HVO during Hawaii Island’s fifth-annual Volcano Awareness Month. For more information about these and other Volcano Awareness Month talks, visit the HVO website at, email or call 967-8844.


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