Shear-wave splitting Tomography At Kilauea

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Environmental Sciences


Kilauea volcano, in Hawaii, is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Since 2008, there has been an eruptive vent at the summit of the volcano, with a lava lake. Further down the volcano, there has been another vent erupting lava since 1985. In April 2018, magma supply stopped at these two places, and travelled under the ground to the residential region of Puna, where it erupted in 24 different fissures. Over 2000 people have been evacuated from their homes and up to 700 buildings have been destroyed by lava flows. The last time there was an eruption in this area was 1960.

When magma pushes its way through the rock, it causes lots of small earthquakes. Earthquake waves can be polarised in a similar way to the way light is polarised. Rock polarises earthquake waves when it is under pressure and tiny cracks line up in one direction. This causes earthquake waves to travel faster in one direction (along the cracks) than the other (across the cracks). Therefore, we can use the polarisation of the earthquake waves to understand how the rock gets pressurised as the magma travels through it.

This new eruptive activity at Kilauea means that we can investigate areas that we previously couldn't because there were not enough earthquakes. We will set up four new stations to measure the new earthquakes and use data from the existing monitoring network. We will use the new earthquakes to make images of the pressure in the rocks during this eruption and will be able to see what happens to the pressure when the eruption stops. This information will be useful to understand the eruptive behaviour of Kilauea, will help monitoring and forecasting changes in eruptive activity, and will also be applied to other volcanic systems around the world. To do this, we have made a team of excellent researchers from the University of East Anglia and the US Geological Survey.

Planned Impact

The STAK project will potentially contribute to societal and economic impact in three ways:

1. Greater understanding of the plumbing system at Kilauea
2. Additional data for monitoring and research
3. Outreach and Engagement

Who might benefit from the research and the successful achievement of our Impact objectives?

There are several important groups who will benefit from this research:
(a) Volcano monitoring agencies
(b) Communities living around volcanoes
(c) The general public

How might they benefit from this research?

We have designed our research in the case study region in collaboration with our project partners (Impact Objective 1). The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (group a) will directly benefit from the improved knowledge about the magmatic plumbing system. This will lead to improved interpretation of monitoring data and ultimately impact the greater community around Kilauea with more accurate forecasting of activity (group b).

Throughout this project, the data we collect and generate will directly contribute to the monitoring and management efforts during the ongoing eruption (Impact Objective 2). This contribution will result in more information for HVO (group a) and better decision making, which impacts the local authorities and communities around Kilauea (group b). In addition, the STAK project will provide evidence of the value of the methodology and demonstrate how it can be used to other monitoring agencies (group a).

This eruption has a high profile in the media and therefore represents an excellent opportunity to engage with different groups within the general public (impact objective 3). We have been doing interviews with the press media, school visits, and will be putting on a special activity at the Norwich Summer Science Festival. Therefore, the impacts of this aspect of the project are far reaching (group c).


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Title STAK seismic data 
Description Four three-component broadband seismometers were deployed in Hawaii for four months recording continuous time series at 100 Hz. The raw data has been uploaded to the IRIS database ( and the National Geoscience Data Centre ( 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This data will help to improve earthquake locations in Hawaii. 
Description Interview for BBC radio 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Two prerecorded interviews for BBC World service, which were aired and subsequently replayed on national and local BBC radio stations. Interviews were about 10 minutes but about 2 minutes was aired.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Norwich Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We had a stand at Norwich Science Festival at the Forum and at the Cathedral in which we have activities to help the public engage with the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018