Kīlauea hasn’t always oozed lava, spreading rivers of molten rock across the landscape and into the sea. For 300 years beginning in about 1500, the volcano on the southeast side of Hawai‘i Island produced violent explosions instead, shooting extremely hot ash and glassy shards of lava through the air for miles.
For more than 15 years, Dr. Don Swanson of the U.S. Geological Survey at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has worked closely with several UH Mānoa professors and graduate students. They’ve collaborated to uncover the number, types, sequence and chemical composition of these explosions.
“This is brand-new stuff,” said Swanson. “Usually you don’t have breakthroughs in a short period of human time. It takes time to develop the evidence.”
The award-winning geologist, recognizing the “outstanding people” in UH Mānoa’s Department of Geology and Geophysics, has funded the Donald A. Swanson Geology & Geophysics Graduate Student Endowed Support Fund. The fund will provide annual support for tuition, student fees, field work and other research costs, and is Swanson’s effort to pay the university back “for all the good, combined research efforts” over these 15 years. Swanson hopes the endowment will encourage students to continue the geologic studies in the islands, adding, “The more work they do in Hawai‘i, the more likely they are to return as researchers or faculty members” and add to the research on the fascinating geology of the state.
Swanson began his work on Kīlauea in 1968, but also spent time at Mount St. Helens in the years surrounding its eruption in 1980, and as scientist-in-charge of the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Washington and Oregon. He returned to Hawai‘i in 1996.
Dr. Kenneth Rubin, chair of Mānoa’s geology and geophysics department, said Swanson “exemplifies the type of scientist we hope our students will aspire to becoming. He is inquisitive, methodical and persistent in his pursuit of understanding. He’s a kind and dedicated mentor to students, and has a long interaction with the department through several collaborators.
“Don’s generous gift will provide much appreciated research support for a new generation of earth scientists studying in and about Hawai‘i,” Rubin said. “It will enable them to pursue new, advanced research on the natural and geological history of our island state.”
Swanson said, “I’ve never felt as good about doing something as I do about making this donation. It’s buying something for our future.”