kilauea erupting
July 2018 Kīlauea east rift zone eruption at night. Photo credit: Ryan Tabata.

Sulfur dioxide and other gases released from Hawaiʻi’s volcanoes react in the atmosphere to produce volcanic smog, known locally as “vog.” During episodes of increased volcanic gas emission and stagnant atmospheric conditions, the vog concentration can produce significant impacts on community health and create a visibility hazard for general aviation. Vog has been shown to exacerbate symptoms of asthma, sinusitis and respiratory disease.

How vog affects human health is the topic of research by the Vog Measurement and Prediction (VMAP) project, led by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa atmospheric scientists.

The VMAP project received three years of new funding totaling $421,907 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to improve its ability to provide statewide forecasts of vog, and to expand delivery methods to include push notification to smartphones.

kilauea erupting
July 2018 Kīlauea east rift zone eruption. Photo credit: Ryan Tabata.

“The goal of the VMAP project is to mitigate the hazards associated with the emissions from Hawaiʻi’s volcanoes to communities across the state through improved monitoring of volcanic emissions and the development and rapid dissemination of an accurate forecast of vog dispersion to the public,” said Steven Businger, atmospheric sciences professor in UH Mānoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) and co-lead of the project.

Businger and co-lead Lacey Holland, a SOEST researcher, are collaborating with Hawaiʻi State Civil Defense, Hawaiʻi State Department of Health, U.S. Geological Survey, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and National Park Service on this effort.

“Since 2010, the VMAP program has been the only source of information regarding the concentration of vog emissions from Kīlauea affecting the State of Hawaiʻi,” said Businger. “Historically, Kīlauea erupts every 2.5 years and Mauna Loa erupts every 7.5 years. Thus, it is likely that there will be a new eruption of Mauna Loa and/or Kīlauea within the next 5 years. This FEMA award will ensure we are ready when that happens.”

For more see SOEST’s website.

–By Marcie Grabowski