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About the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

I ka nānā no a ‘ike.
(By observing, one learns)
‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings by Mary Kawena Pukui

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) is part of the U.S. Geological Survey's Volcano Hazards Program. HVO's mission is to monitor, investigate, and assess hazards from active volcanoes and earthquakes in Hawaii, issue warnings, and advance scientific understanding in order to reduce impacts of volcanic eruptions. Communicating the results of our work to the public, emergency managers, and the scientific community is another important aspect of the HVO mission.

Founded in 1912, HVO was the first of the five volcano observatories supported by USGS today. For much of its history, HVO was perched on the rim of Kīlauea Volcano's summit caldera inside Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. That ended in 2018, when—amid ash explosions and violent earthquakes accompanying onset of partial summit collapse—HVO relocated to the town of Hilo, 30 miles distant. Due to substantial damage to the building, new facilities in Hilo and inside the national park are planned. In the meantime, most of HVO remains in Hilo in the historic Ironworks Building on Kamehameha Avenue. HVO continues to use some facilities inside the national park and a warehouse in Kea‘au.

HVO's staff has grown from one geologist (Thomas A. Jaggar) in 1912 to a team of more than 30 people today. The HVO team includes scientists and specialists in geology, geophysics, seismology, volcanic gases, computer technology, geophysical instruments and radio systems, administration, and communication. Hundreds of volunteers, students, and visiting scientists—many from the University of Hawai‘i—have also provided valuable assistance to HVO through the years.

HVO's methods of observing and analyzing data from instruments and field studies have changed dramatically since Jaggar's time. Presently, our monitoring network across the island consists of more than 200 sensors, including seismometers, GPS, tiltmeters, infrasound, gas detectors, and thermal/visual cameras. These sensors transmit data to HVO 24 hours a day in order to track activity and support research into how volcanoes work.