History of CSAV

Dr. Robert Decker served as the Scientist-in-Charge of the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) from 1979 – 1984. During his tenure there, he found that there was a strong demand for training in volcano hazards monitoring among developing nations and he received many requests to host visiting scientists and technicians at HVO.  Although HVO welcomed a number of visiting scientists during those years, it was apparent that HVO had neither the staff nor the resources to undertake an ongoing comprehensive training program at Kilauea.  Subsequent to Bob’s retirement from the USGS, he began exploratory discussions with the University of Hawaii at Hilo, the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics (HIG) at UH-Manoa, and the USGS Volcano Hazards Program (VHP) to establish a more formalized training program.  His proposal to establish a cooperative, international training program at UH-Hilo received strong support from Dr. Joe Halbig, the Chair of the Geology Department at UH-Hilo, from Dr. Charles Helsley, the Director of HIG, as well as the VHP administrators.  A formal request made to the University’s Board of Regents was approved in 1989.  That same year, Hawaii’s Legislature provided staffing positions at UH-Hilo and HIGP as well as funding to begin operations of the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes (CSAV).

Three institutions comprise CSAV: UH-Hilo, HVO, and UH-Manoa.

The mission of CSAV, as stated in its Charter, is to:

    Principal instructors at CSAV in the early 90’s, L-R: Steve Self, Don Thomas, Bob Decker, Joe Halbig, Jim Anderson.

    In 1989, CSAV’s Director, Dr. Jim Anderson, and Educational Specialist, Darcy Bevens, were hired, and CSAV’s charter was approved by the UH-Hilo Chancellor, Dr. Edmund Kormondy.  The Center also established shared faculty appointments between UH-Hilo’s Geology Department and Manoa’s HIG that enabled two teaching  faculty from Hilo’s Geology Department, Drs. Joe Halbig and Carl Johnson, to conduct volcano-related research at HIG, and two of HIG’s research faculty, Drs. Stephen Self and Donald Thomas, to serve as instructors in CSAV’s International Volcano Hazards Training courses.  As instructors were hired and the teaching programs established, it became obvious that HVO staff and facilities would play an important part in the training course, and consequently, a Memorandum of Understanding was developed to formalize the relationship between CSAV/UH-Hilo and HVO/VHP.  

    International trainees from, L-R: Colombia, Papua New Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Peru, Costa Rica, Saipan.

    The first International Volcano Hazards Training Course was held in 1990, with instructors from UH-Hilo, UH-Manoa, and HVO, and has, with only one exception in 1993, been offered each year since then.  Although the International course has evolved over time, the basic structure of the courses has emphasized the current state-of-the-art of volcano monitoring technology and hazards management.  The trainees are provided both classroom and field training in: Physical Volcanology as it applies to mapping and interpreting volcanic landforms and deposits; Volcano Seismology, seismic network installation, recording, analysis, and interpretation of seismic records; Volcano Geodesy and the application of precise leveling, EDM surveys, and GPS technology for monitoring ground deformation in volcanic terrain; Volcanic Gas Geochemistry and the techniques of sampling, analysis and interpretation of volatile emissions from active volcanic systems; and Emergency Management during volcano crises.  Although it’s not possible to train every course participant to become expert in all these fields, our goal is to offer advanced training for each participant in their field of responsibility and to provide all trainees with sufficient background in the other technologies to enable them to understand the purpose and the value that each technique provides in understanding the evolution of a volcanic system toward an eruption.  More than 100 participants from 26 countries have participated in the training program to date.

    L-R: VEST Staff Janet Babb; HVO’s Jim Kauahikaua instructs Na Pua Noeau; Robert Decker and Steve Mattox with VEST trainees; Na Pua student Kevan Kamibayashi.

    In 1991, CSAV began a public outreach program with a series of public symposia related to volcanic research and local volcano-related phenomena (e.g. Vog and LAZE, Forecasting Volcanic Events), of interest to the residents of the Big Island.  Drs. Decker and Halbig also initiated a summer course entitled “Volcanology for Educators” that later evolved into an NSF-sponsored program, “Volcanology for Earth Science Teachers” or VEST, that was taught by Drs. Decker, Anderson and Ms. Janet Babb.  The latter program hosted secondary school teachers from AK, WA, OR, CA and Hawaii for a three-week training program in volcanic processes on Kilauea.   During the early 90’s, CSAV also provided support for the Na Pua No’eau program, an educational enrichment program for gifted students of Hawaiian ancestry, providing instructors, student help, and field vehicles.

    The year 1995 began a challenging period for CSAV.  Due to severe budget constraints placed on the University’s funding from the Legislature, necessitated by a serious recession in the State’s economy, operational support for CSAV’s programs from the University was terminated.  The loss in funding coincided with Dr. Anderson’s scheduled sabbatical, and Dr. Thomas, who had served as an instructor for the International and VEST classes, was asked to take over as Director of CSAV. In order to maintain CSAV’s training and outreach programs, extramural support was solicited from a number of agencies.  The USGS Volcano Disaster Assistance Program was able to provide small, but essential, amounts of funding to support continued training for International participants from developing nations.  CSAV also established the Maurice and Katia Krafft Memorial Fund, both to honor the Kraffts who were active in producing volcano hazards training films for an international audience (and who were killed while filming the Unzen eruption in Japan), and to provide additional support for International trainees from developing nations.  Support for this fund comes from donations and sales of the “Pele Dancing” poster; all proceeds are used to support participants from developing nations who have no other resources to attend the International training course.

    We developed a program of visiting schools to teach children about volcanic hazards.

    A suite of proposals to conduct an “all hazards” program of public outreach for Hawaii’s residents was submitted to Hawaii’s Office of Civil Defense for funding by FEMA.  These included: the development of a video on earthquake and lava flow hazards, targeting students at the primary and intermediate grade levels; an Earthquake Hazards and Mitigation awareness program for home-owners; a sequence of public symposia addressing earthquake, eruption, tsunami, and hurricane hazards; and a State-wide series of teacher training workshops intended to incorporate hazards awareness into Hawaii’s school curriculum. 

    Field Camp students

    Instructor Jim Anderson demonstrates GPS; lab work at UHH; pahoehoe formation; hiking Mauna Ulu; Nicole Lautze explains stratigraphy.

    In 1995, CSAV added a new summer course, GEOL 471, entitled Field Methods in Volcanology. Patterned after the International training course, GEOL 471 is three weeks long and designed primarily for advanced Geology undergraduates and early graduate students having a strong interest in volcanology.  The course is intended to provide students with field-oriented training in modern methods of volcano monitoring.  The course provides a broad overview of the theoretical basis of volcano seismology, physical volcanology, volcano geodesy, and gas geochemistry followed by field measurements and sampling and analysis of data and samples in a laboratory setting.  Class size is limited to 16 students that are further divided into two groups of eight students each who cycle through each of the four modules.  This enables each student to handle each type of equipment used, to collect samples and data in the field, and to then work with those data and samples to complete the analysis process.  GEOL 471 has been offered each year since 1996 and has drawn applicants not only from the Mainland US but also students from Canada and EU countries.  Some of our graduates have gone on to pursue advanced degrees and careers in volcanology with the USGS, the Smithsonian Institution, the World Bank, and similar organizations.  Both UH-Hilo and UH-Manoa provide instructors, with guest lectures from HVO scientists.

    Cooperative scientists

    The Coop Agreement facilitates, L-R: sampling with FTIR; intern Steve Clegg in Vanuatu; Fran Coloma and Loren Antolik of the deformation team.

    In 1998, CSAV was awarded a grant from the USGS Volcano Hazards Program to undertake a Cooperative Volcano Research and Monitoring Agreement with HVO.  The purpose of the Cooperative Agreement is to enable CSAV to support HVO’s volcano monitoring mission and to help facilitate cooperative research among University and USGS scientists.  The Cooperative Agreement has continued to the present date and has allowed CSAV to assist HVO’s Gas Geochemistry group with new-generation gas monitoring equipment, to provide Post Doctoral appointees to the Seismology and Geodesy teams, and provide technical support for the installation and maintenance of a broad-band seismic array monitoring Kilauea’s caldera and summit magma chamber, a network of geodetic instruments continuously monitoring Mauna Loa’s summit, and the installation of a suite of borehole seismic and strain measuring instruments.  The Coop Agreement also provides support for CSAV’s outreach program that offers eruption and earthquake awareness programs for Big Island schools and community-based hazards awareness meetings.  The Coop Agreement also provides funding for student interns from UH-Hilo to work on volcano-related research.  Our student interns have: traveled to Vanuatu and Peru to perform volcanic gas emission monitoring at Ambrym and Ubinas volcanoes; assisted in the implementation of the Earthworm seismic data analysis software at HVO; and developed lava flow mapping and visualization software for use in our eruption hazards outreach program. 

    In 2005, CSAV suffered the loss of our principal founder and mentor, Dr. Bob Decker, who passed away after a long battle with cancer.  Bob’s guidance and support over the years provided an essential leavening element to all of our programs and his mentorship is greatly missed.  According to the HVO Volcano Watch (June 23, 2005): “One of his visionary accomplishments, and the one of which he was most proud, was the creation of the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes, in collaboration with HVO, at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Here, international students come to study and observe active volcanoes first-hand, learn how to monitor them, and mitigate the hazards of living with them. When they return to their countries, they are able to set up monitoring systems that reduce threats from volcanic and seismic hazards to their own communities.”

    To honor and maintain recognition of his unique contributions to CSAV, we have established the Robert W. Decker Memorial Fund with the UH Foundation.  Donations to this fund will form an endowment to support international training and collaborative research among the developing nations.