Volcano Monitoring and Research

Before the 20th century, most scientific studies of volcanoes were conducted during short-lived expeditions, generally undertaken as a response to major eruptions. Thomas A. Jaggar, Jr., a geologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was not satisfied with that approach. He recognized that, to understand volcanoes fully, one must study them continuously before, during, and after eruptions. Jaggar's views were profoundly affected by a memorable visit in 1902 to the Island of Martinique (West Indies). He went as a member of the scientific expedition sent to study the catastrophic eruption of Mont Pelee that year, which devastated the city of St. Pierre and killed about 30,000 people.

In 1911, spurred by a stimulating lecture delivered by Jaggar, a group of Hawaiian residents founded the Hawaiian Volcano Research Association (HVRA). The logo of the HVRA included the motto Ne plus haustae aut obrutae urbes (No more shall the cities be destroyed), reflecting Jaggar's memory of Mont Pelee's destructive force and his optimistic belief that better understanding of volcanoes could reduce the hazard to life and property from eruptions.

In 1912, with support from the HVRA and the Whitney Fund of MIT, Jaggar established the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) to study the activity of Mauna Loa and Kilauea Volcanoes on a permanent, scientific basis. "Volcanology" emerged as a modern science with the founding of the HVO, which between 1912 and 1948 was managed by the HVRA, the U.S. Weather Bureau, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the National Park Service.

First HVO Above: The first Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), located near the site of the present Volcano House Hotel, as it appeared around 1922. (Photographer unknown; courtesy of the Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii.) Below: HVO at its present site, after the addition of a new wing (with observation tower) and renovation in 1986. (Photograph by J.D. Griggs.)
HVO presently

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Maintained by John Watson
Updated 05.01.97