UH Manoa Volcanologists Receive International Recognition

Two volcanologists from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Department of Geology and Geophysics have received two of the top three awards from the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI). Bruce Houghton, the Gordon A. MacDonald Professor of Volcanology and Science Director of the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center at UHM, was honored recently with the IAVCEI Thorarinsson Medal. Sébastien Biass, a post-doctoral researcher at the UHM School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology Department of Geology and Geophysics, was honored with the George Walker Medal.

Houghton’s Thorarinsson Medal

The Thorarinsson Medal is awarded only once every four years by the IAVCEI for outstanding contributions to volcanology, and is the highest award in international volcanology.

“A giant of volcanology, Bruce has tackled ‘big’ problems in geology with innovative approaches and technologies, and is truly a scientist of outstanding distinction,” stated University of Tasmania’s Rebecca Carey in her nomination letter. “His research has not only generated a wealth of new scientific understanding, but also critically Thorarinsson-type pioneering advances in long-standing cornerstone volcanologic concepts.”

Bruce Houghton Near Ruapehu, New Zealand

Further, Houghton has pioneered research across the interface of fundamental volcanological science and hazards, social and behavioral science, leading to a world-first detailed training course for scientists, first responders and emergency managers, titled the U.S. FEMA Volcanic Crisis Awareness course.

Houghton and his predecessor at UHM, George Walker, are among the only 9 volcanologists to date given the Thorarinsson award, which is named for noted Icelandic geologist and volcanologist Sigurdur Thorarinsson.

Houghton reflected on becoming a Thorarinsson Medalist: “I was delighted and surprised by the award. All my research is collaborative and, since moving to UH, 70% of my papers have been first-authored by my students or postdocs, and these are not the type of statistics that usually lead to such awards. I was particularly pleased because all three of my mentors in volcanology are on the list of eight prior winners of the medal; it is quite humbling to be joining them. For UH to have been awarded two of the nine Thorarinsson Medal to date is, I think, a sign that volcanology is in excellent health here in Hawaiʻi. The challenge now is to find ways to build on this reputation and capture for UH some of the wonderful crop of young volcanologists on the market.”

Biass’s George Walker Award 

The George Walker Award is given every two years to a young scientist up to seven years after acquiring a doctoral degree. The award recognizes achievements of a recent outstanding graduate in the fields of research encompassed by IAVCEI.

Sebastien Biass

Sébastien Biass, post-doctoral researcher working with Houghton at UHM, was honored for “achievements that are all deeply rooted in field studies and because of his unique appreciation with the importance of statistical and critical treatment of field data within the growing field of numerical modelling,” cited Professor Costanza Bonadonna of the University of Geneva. “His unique approach stems from combining thorough field studies with state-of-the-art numerical modeling, furthering both deposit characterization and the newly born discipline of hazard and risk assessment that he is pioneering. What makes Sébastien unique in his science is his open mind and multidisciplinary approach, his scientific curiosity and enthusiasm, and his dedication to going beyond his own limits.”

Sebastien Biass in the Field

Biass commented, “My vision of the IAVCEI George Walker Award for early career scientist is closely tied to my vision of scientific research, which contains three components. First, scientific curiosity is one of the greatest source of pleasure in life and provides the motivation to attempt understanding the unknown. Second, luck, that is in the selection of work colleagues, has been an integral part of my research. Specifically, Costanza Bonadonna and Bruce Houghton, both part of the UH family in either past or present, have shown me how working on interesting science with bright people is an invaluable source of satisfaction. Thirdly, I see research as having a global objective of the well-being of society, which in volcanology translates to a better understanding of the physics of hazardous processes occurring during eruptions in order to mitigate better the impacts on exposed communities. This award therefore represents a success on these three levels and belongs as much to everyone I have ever looked up to as it does to me. Having been picked amongst a long list of such successful young scientists humbles me and gives great motivation to pursue my scientific career.”

The award honors the memory of former UHM Geology Professor George Walker, whose discoveries pioneered a modern quantitative approach to physical volcanology and greatly accelerated understanding of volcanic processes.

For more information, visit: https://www.soest.hawaii.edu

Governor Commits $19.5 Million in Federal Funds for Māmalahoa Highway Project

The County of Hawai‘i is pleased to announce that Governor David Ige and the State Department of Transportation have committed $19.5 million in federal (STIP) funds for the Māmalahoa Highway widening project in Waimea.

Photo by Aaron Stene of a previous Mamalahoa Project.

The current cost of the project is approximately $25 million, and the grant of $19.5 million in Federal Highway Administration Funds will be matched with a required 20%, or approximately $5 million, to be contributed by the County.

This initiative is the result of a coordinated efforts between the Federal Highway Administration, State Department of Transportation, Department of Land and Natural Resources, the County of Hawai’i and other project agencies.

“This is such an important project to improve the traffic flow and safety of the area, not only for vehicles, but for pedestrians and bicyclists as well,” said Mayor Harry Kim.  “This would not have happened without the personal help of the State DOT’s Ed Sniffen and the Governor.”

DLNR to Conduct Ungulate Control Program at Pu’u Wa’awa’a

The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Forestry and Wildlife will conduct an ungulate control program at Puu Waawaa Mauka (above Mamalahoa Highway), during three consecutive weekends in September: Labor Day weekend Sept. 2-4, Sept. 9 and 10, and Sept. 16 and 17. During these dates hiking will not be permitted.

The Puu Waawaa Mauka ungulate control will be a non-typical ram and feral goat hunt, and will take place concurrently with the Makai muzzleloader season (following the Makai archery season, including State holidays).

The bag limit will be one (1) non-typical ram and two (2) goats (either sex) per hunter per day. During this program, the whole carcasses (entrails can be cleaned, but with attached genitalia on carcass) need to be inspected at checkout. For safety purposes, a maximum of 30 permittees will be allowed per day. Hunters interested in participating on the PWW MAUKA UNGULATE CONTROL PROGRAM will be issued permits at the hunter check station on a first-come, first-served basis.

Hunters will need to purchase 2018 goat and ram tags to legally hunt these species in these areas. Tags may be purchased from any Hawaii Island Division of Forestry and Wildlife office and at the PWW Hunter Check Station during the hunt. Exact change of $10/tag (resident hunters) and $25/tag (non-resident hunters) is required when purchasing tags at the hunter check station.

The harvest tags will be non-transferable and non-refundable and must be placed through the hind leg of the animal immediately after each kill, and remain tagged until the hunter checks out of the hunting area and arrives home or to their final destination.

Hunters are to check in at the Pu’u Wa’awa’a check station beginning at 5 a.m. the day of the hunt and must be checked-out 7:45p.m. There is NO CAMPING allowed in the hunting area on any night before or during the hunt.

For further information, contact DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife at 808-887-6063.

Governor Ige Visits with Hawaiʻi Air National Guard Members Heading to Texas on Hurricane Harvey Relief Mission

A Hawaiʻi Air National Guard C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft from the 204th Airlift Squadron, 154th Wing, departed Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam early this morning as part of the nation’s Hurricane Harvey relief effort.

The C-17, carrying two flight crews and maintenance personnel (16 Airmen in total) will initially fly to Memphis International Airport in Tennessee, from where they will transport relief supplies to the hurricane-damaged areas around Houston, Texas. Hurricane Harvey is one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. The Hawaiʻi Air National Guard received the request for assistance from the National Guard Bureau yesterday afternoon and was prepared to depart just after dawn today.

Gov. David Y. Ige and Hawaiʻi National Guard leadership were on hand to see the flight crews and maintenance personnel off at Hickam Field.

“I’m very proud of our Hawaiʻi National Guard Airmen who were able to generate this mission on very short notice,” said Gov. Ige. “Hawaiʻi stands with our brothers and sisters in Texas and I know the crew will be bringing the Aloha Spirit to a lot of people who are in great need right now.”

The C-17 has been tasked with transporting relief supplies such as generators, tactical shelters, medical supplies and field kitchens from National Guard units from other states. They anticipate they will be flying multiple missions and the return date has not yet been determined. The 204th Airlift Squadron is one of three flying units within the Hawaiʻi Air National Guard’s 154th Wing, the largest and most complex wing in the entire Air National Guard. The Guard is tasked with being ready for war or any other operational contingency overseas and well as disaster response here at home.

Fire and Dry Conditions Prompt Road Closures and Precautions at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Due to escalating fire danger in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, park officials have closed Hilina Pali Road from the Mauna Iki Trailhead and Mauna Loa Road at the gate past Kīpukapuaulu. Non-motorized day use such as hiking and bicycling will be permitted, and backcountry camping on Mauna Loa is allowed with a permit.

NPS Photo

In addition, ‘Āinahou Ranch access will be restricted to essential personnel and authorized vehicles only. Campfires are prohibited at Nāmakanipaio Campground and Kīpukapuaulu until further notice. The use of fuel stoves is allowed.

On Thursday afternoon, a fire burned nearly three acres of seasonally dry ‘ōhi‘a woodland and scattered koa trees, forcing park officials to close Mauna Loa Road from Highway 11 and temporarily evacuate Nāmakanipaio Campground. National Park Service and County of Hawai‘i fire crews responded to the blaze, located about ¼ mile west of Kīpukapuaulu. As of 8 a.m. Friday, the fire was 50 percent contained, and its spread had been halted.

No structures or homes were threatened. Park officials report that the fire was started unintentionally, and its cause is under investigation.

“We’ve had an extremely hot and dry summer in the park, and across the island which escalates the risk of fire,” said Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park Chief Ranger John Broward. “Hot components on motor vehicles have historically contributed to the increased risk of fire, and by reducing the number of vehicles, we can mitigate the potential for a catastrophic event,” he said.

Hawaii Senate Adjourns Special Session

Members of the Hawai‘i State Senate adjourned Special Session today after the House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 4 to provide funding for the completion of the City and County of Honolulu’s rail transit project and bills to approve collective bargaining costs.

During this Special Legislative Session, as part of its constitutionally mandated duties, the Senate considered for advise and consent and approved a total of 50 gubernatorial appointments to 34 boards and commissions and one deputy director position.

Among those confirmed this week:

  • James Griffin, to the Public Utilities Commission
  • Douglas Shinsato to the U.H. Board of Regents
  • Robert Masuda as Deputy to the Chairperson of the Department of Land and Natural Resources
  • Marcus Oshiro as the Chairperson and Representative of the Public of the Hawai‘i Labor Relations Board

A complete list of actions taken during the Special Legislative Session can viewed at capitol.hawaii.gov.

Hawaii House Passes Rail Funding Bill in Special Session

The Hawaii House of Representatives voted in Special Session today to pass Senate Bill 4 to fund the City’s $8.2 billion rail project. The vote was 31 yes, 15 no and five excused.

The Senate passed the measure on Wednesday. The bill now goes to Governor David Ige for his consideration.

The bill will provide about $2.39 billion to complete construction of the rail project to Ala Moana and provide a secure funding source to ensure continued federal support.

House Speaker Scott K. Saiki (Kakaako, Downtown) said after passing this funding bill, it is now up to the City to manage the project in a way that is both accountable to the taxpayers and completed within its budget.

“The legislature has taken on the responsibility of finding a way to fund rail and to secure federal funding,” Saiki said. “I want to thank our lawmakers for working together to reach this compromise.”

The bill will:

  • Extend the general excise tax surcharge on Oahu for three additional years, from December 31, 2027 through December 31, 2030. This will provide $1.25 billion.
  • Raise the hotel room tax charged to visitors (Transient Accommodation Tax) by one percent from 9.25 percent to 10.25 percent for 13 years, from January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2030. This also applies to timeshares. This will provide $1.25 billion.
  • The hotel room tax is collected statewide and goes directly into the general fund, not to the island where it is collected. Each county receives an allocated proportional share of the tax regardless of total amounts collected. Raising the tax does not change that amount.
  • Permanently increase the counties share of the TAT from its current $93 million base to $103 million.
  • Reduce the State Department of Taxation’s administrative fee on the GET surcharge from 10 percent to one percent.
  • Require a state run forensic audit of the rail project and annual financial reviews.

The bill also provides that funds collected for rail go into a new Mass Transit Special Fund and rather than simply give the money to the City, and requires the State Comptroller to certify HART’s invoices for capital costs as the project moves forward. This will allow the state to keep track of both spending and construction progress.

This bill addresses the immediate rail construction shortfall by collecting funds upfront through a small TAT increase instead of adding additional years of GET surcharge on the back end. This will reduce the financing costs of the project by hundreds of millions of dollars.

A rail bill that relies solely on GET will continue to tax the poor and increase the cost to taxpayers in the long term. By substantially relying on the TAT, visitors will now bare a significant portion of the financing burden.

Rep. Sylvia Luke (Pauoa, Punchbowl, Nuuanu), Chair of the House Finance Committee, said careful thought and consideration went into this bill.

“After hearing testimony from city officials, neighbor island residents and the public, we looked in detail at how to fund rail while creating the least amount of increase on our taxpayers,” Rep. Luke said.

Rep. Henry Aquino (Waipahu) said it is important to support the rail project to relieve traffic congestion for West Oahu residents.

“This bill is a compromise that provides the funds to get rail built. When completed, rail will be a great relief for the thousands of people stuck in traffic every day,” Rep. Aquino said. “This bill not only provides much needed oversight on spending by the State Comptroller, it also mandates accountability though audits and financial reviews.”