chart showing driving distances from Hilo

Kimura’s infographic, Driving Distances from Hilo, including alternate route, if required to avoid the lava flow

chart showing household income in the Puna region near the lava flow

Kimura’s infographics: Households with Incomes Below Poverty Level

A researcher at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo who specializes in economic geography has generated mapping data showing the possible effects if or when the current lava flow in lower Puna cuts off the highway and then reaches the shore.

portrait of Mark Kimura

Mark Kimura in the Pahoa Village Museum

Mark Kimura is an affiliate faculty member of the Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences, and when the Hawaiʻi County Civil Defense and Hawaiian Volcano Observatory started discussing worst case scenarios of the current lava flow, he saw a need for easily accessible information about demographics and businesses in Puna that would help the community make important decisions. He started posting his maps and analysis on a Facebook page called Lower Puna Infographics by Mark Kimura.

“The more I read comments (on my Facebook page), the more firmly I’m convinced that education is crucial across the island both geographically and demographically,” says Kimura. “I try my best to make my graphics both accurate and concise at the same time, but there are limits for that effort. The existence of UH Hilo is also crucial in a situation like this. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without my access to UH Hilo’s resources, mainly software licenses, and connections with other scientists and staff.”

For his analysis, Kimura is using geographic information systems or GIS, which are computer systems designed to capture and analyze spatial or geographical data. For many of the images, he is using a GIS tool called Esri Community Analyst, which he learned as a former postdoc and member of the UH Hilo Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Lab. Esri is used by organizations and communities around the world that are using GIS to increase spatial literacy, protect the environment, assist with disaster response, and support humanitarian affairs. With this computerized tool, Kimura created the maps of Puna and pulled up the statistics.

Kimura says the making of the maps is helping him to grow as a scientist and as a person.

“To be honest, I’m a bit scared of possible impacts my (Facebook page) may have on people,” he says. “The responsibilities that come with the information I share feel too much at times. But my salary for the past three years has been paid by tax payers, so if I can help people using my skills and resources, I have to do this. After reading people’s comments by people who live in the affected area and those who have their loved ones living in lower Puna, I can’t stop.”

Kimura wishes to add this disclaimer: The information did not go through the peer review process, so he does not claim accuracy of the graphs. He notes that he does his best in the hopes that this will provide people in lower Puna and the rest of the world with some insights.

—via UH Hilo Stories