Snapshots: Research and Creative Work — Grant to Support Research on Hawaii’s Lava Flows


Rachel Lee of the atmospheric and geological sciences department will research the behavior of lava flows on the island of Hawaii and in laboratory simulations, thanks to a highly competitive two-year, $30,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Working as co-investigator with colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned a doctorate and did post-doctoral work, Lee will study the molten rock at temperatures exceeding 2000 degrees Fahrenheit to better predict the flows’ behavior as the lava cools. The overarching goal is to alleviate hazards through more accurate prediction.

Lee plans to do much of her data analysis at SUNY Oswego. She will involve undergraduates in that work and in experiments using thimble-size samples of lava. Larger scale lab work will take place at Pittsburgh and at Syracuse University’s Lava Project. Other collaborators on the NSF project include researchers from Blaise Pascal University in France and the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

The fieldwork, likely next summer, will take place at lava flows on and around the Big Island’s Mount Kilauea, a volcano that has been erupting continuously since 1981. Researchers will study the properties and behavior of the flows using instruments that are handheld as well as satellite-based.

“Particularly from a hazard perspective, this [research] gives us a lot of information on where the lava may flow as it cools and how fast it may progress,” Lee said. “Ultimately, we hope to modify flow models to help mitigate hazards and loss of property.”

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