Head HVO scientist during Kilauea eruption looks to next chapter in Alaska

Head of volcano observatory during historic 2018 eruption departs for Alaska

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Action-packed is a fitting description of Tina Neal’s 5-years as scientist in charge at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

After leading geologists through the 2018 Kilauea eruption, she’s now started on a new journey.

Neal began working at the Hawaii Isle location in 2015, just as the threat from a lava-flow near Pahoa ended.

Little did she know that an even bigger disaster was ahead.

In May of 2018, Kilauea began spewing lava. Fissues popped up in Leilani Estates, destroying hundreds of homes. Other neighborhoods were covered by lava on a path to the Pacific.

Neal said during the powerful act of nature, there was much to learn as she worked to keep the public, and her staff, safe.

“You can’t plan for every facet ahead of time so you have to be nimble and think on your feet and be responsive,” she said.

“I’m very very grateful there was no loss of life and severe injuries were few. I think that’s a testimony to a lot of people’s hard work and efforts.”

The eruption ended 4 months later. But HVO’s careful monitoring of Kilauea will never be over.

“While it’s easy to think that Kilauea has had it’s big event of 37 years, now it’s gonna be quiet for a long time — we can’t bet on that,” Neal warned.

“It’s magma system is also recharging. We have a lake at the summit now which puts a body of water on top of a potentially erupting reservoir and that gives us some new concerns about hazards.”

Neal always knew her assignment on the Big Island would end in 2020. Her next journey now takes her to the 49th state.

There, she’s working at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

“Now I can relax a bit. I don’t have to live with my cell phone by my side 100 percent of the time,” she said.

But its still not a walk in the park. Alaska has more than 50 active volcanoes.

Still, Kilauea plays a major role in her work.

“One of my first assignments back here in Alaska is to help the USGS Volcano Science Center look at what was learned in 2018 from an emergency response perspective to incorporate those lessons into our next disaster,” she said. “You never kind of de-connect completely from being part of HVO.”

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