Science features UH Hilo professor’s groundbreaking lava research

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effects of the volcanic eruption
A panoramic view of fissure 7 from the intersection of Leilani and Makamae Streets in the Leilani Estates subdivision, Hawaiʻi Island. This photo was taken at 06:01 a.m. local time, on 5/5/18. (Photo credit: USGS)

A team of scientists led by the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo geology department had its most recent research on the 2018 Kīlauea eruption featured in the December 6 issue of Science.

Cheryl Gansecki, UH Hilo geology affiliate faculty, is lead author on “The tangled tale of Kīlauea’s 2018 eruption as told by geochemical monitoring,” which examines changes in lava chemistry that reflect its magma history and can affect eruptive behavior, but are normally not studied until after an eruption is over. Co-authors include Steven Lundblad and Ken Hon (UH Hilo), R. Lopaka Lee and Carolyn Parcheta (USGS-Hawaiian Volcano Observatory) and Thomas Shea (UH Mānoa).

Cheryl Gansecki
Cheryl Gansecki

“We used rapid energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence analysis to measure diagnostic elements in lava samples within a few hours of collection during the 2018 Kīlauea eruption,” explained Gansecki. “The geochemical data can give us lava temperature, which affects viscosity and therefore how fast lava can flow. We were able to notify the monitoring teams of changing lava temperatures in advance of changing hazards during the eruption.

“We also identified, in near-real time, interactions between older, colder, stored magma leftover from previous east rift zone eruptions and hotter magma delivered during dike emplacement,” she added.

Their study suggests that at least two bodies of stored magma were forced to the surface, including the first known eruption of andesite (a volcanic rock) on Kīlauea, and that magma from these bodies mixed with the newer intruding magma. By analyzing the composition of crystals carried in the magma, they were also able to identify the presence of a much hotter component that had to come from deep in the summit magma or rift system.

“We can’t see what goes on inside a volcano, so geochemistry is one of the tools used to decipher it,” Gansecki explained. “Our team has been working for years on ways to get this information available in near-real time so it was very exciting to have it used successfully during a volcanic crisis.”

In May 2019, Gansecki and Lundblad were awarded the 2019 Koichi and Taniyo Taniguchi Award for Excellence and Innovation at UH Hilo for their work developing and implementing the rapid-analysis protocol.

Two other 2018 Kīlauea eruption articles in the December 6 issue include “Cyclic effusion during the 2018 eruption of Kīlauea Volcano,“ by lead author USGSHVO geologist Matt Patrick and colleagues, and “Magma Reservoir Failure and the Onset of Caldera Collapse at Kīlauea Volcano in 2018,” by lead author Kyle Anderson and colleagues.

Read more about Gansecki at UH Hilo Stories.

UH News video: UH Hilo team provides USGS critical, daily chemical analysis of lava flow

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