From an office in Vancouver, scientist Liz Westby has been helping Hawaiians keep up with news about their volcanic eruption.
Westby works at the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Columbia Tech Center. But in this linked-in world, the geologist can be in the center of the action as part of the social media team.
Some of that has involved answering questions this week on the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory’s Facebook page.
“We’re providing information to people who need it,” Westby said Monday as she monitored several screens with U.S. Geological Survey imagery. They included live feeds from the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.
More than 900,000 people had checked in via social media, so Westby definitely has felt like part of the team.
By managing social media, staffers in the Vancouver office are letting their fellow scientists in Hawaii focus on the eruption.
There are only 25 scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, Westby said, and responding to an active volcano “is overwhelming for 25 people.”
The Vancouver observatory – one of five in the USGS volcano science network – also is providing some hands-on help. Three staff members were scheduled to be in Hawaii today. One of them actually got a head start.
“Rebecca Kramer was already there on vacation,” Westby said. A geophysicist, Kramer “is setting up little GPS stations in the Leilani Estates subdivision.”
That’s the community where more than 25 homes have been destroyed.
Westby also has a personal connection to the eruption site.
“I know the people. I was there from mid-February to mid-March,” Westby said.
A few days ago, one of those colleagues provided an interesting description of the scene, with the islanders also dealing with dozens of earthquakes.
“She said she almost felt seasick.”
While they’re assisting colleagues in Hawaii, the local scientists also have been preparing for an open house. Part of the state’s Volcanic Preparedness Month, the session will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Cascades Volcano Observatory, 1300 S.E. Cardinal Court, in Columbia Tech Center.
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