HAWAII NATURE NOTES
Jaggar, Dean of Pacific Volcanologists
Before the sixth year of the twentieth century passed into history, two great disasters had been vested upon the world: In 1902, Martinique's Mont Pelee exploded with a shattering eruption that sent a volcanic hurricane into the town of St. Pierre, killing all but one of its 28,000 inhabitants. San Francisco was flattened four years later by a consuming fire precipitated by an earthquake.
En route to Japan in 1909 to observe the then active volcanoes Tarumai and Asama, Dr. Thomas A. Jaggar, Jr., visited Hawaii to make some preliminary investigations of Kilauea Volcano. Only thirty-eight years of age at the time, the young scientist enjoyed an outstanding professional reputation. Widely travelled, he had visited the scenes of earthquake and volcanic activity elsewhere in the world, including Martinique, Vesuvius, and the Aleutians.
Jaggar was born in Philadelphia in 1871, the son of an illustrious Protestant Episcopal bishop. He did his early schooling in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Switzerland, later taking advanced studies at Munich and Heidelberg Universities. He specialized in geology at Harvard and at thirty-four was appointed head of the geology department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Mont Pelee and San Francisco disasters, along with interest generated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1898 through various investigations in volcanology, impelled the trustees of the Estates of Edward and Caroline Whitney to subscribe $25,000 to the Institute for furthering research in the science, and Jaggar was sent to Hawaii and Japan. Jaggar's appraisals of the volcanic areas he had visited led him to conclude that Kilauea afforded the best opportunities for the type of research envisioned, and he summed his recommendations as follows: "The main object of all the work should be humanitarianearthquake predictions and methods of protecting life and property on the basis of sound scientific judgment." Following his preliminary investigations at Kilauea, Jaggar looked up Thurston in Honolulu and promptly sold the publisher on the need to establish a research center at the Hawaiian volcano.
Jaggar returned to his teaching duties at Boston following his investigations in the Orient. Along with Professor R. A. Daly, of Harvard, who had made some observations at Kilauea in 1909, Jaggar arranged for Dr. E. S. Shepherd, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and F. A. Perret, of the Volcanic Research Society of Springfield, Massachusetts, to make some investigations at the Hawaiian volcano. Shepherd and Perret arrived at Kilauea early in July 1911 and Perret began issuing weekly reports on the activity of the volcano. Perret's reports were published in Thurston's Advertiser, developing interest locally in the scientific investigations.
The first physical measurements of Halemaumau were made by Shepherd and Perret, who undertook to determine the temperature of the lake of lava in the fire pit. The scientists stretched a 1,200-foot cable from the east to the west side of the fire pit over the lake of fire and lowered their instruments 300 feet into the molten mass. A few days after the experiments beganand after several unsuccessful attempts at measuring the lava temperature with various pyrometric instrumentsPerret fell out of a moving automobile and was practically immobilized. Low on funds, Shepherd was unable to hire helpers, whereupon Thurston, his wife, and their son and daughter and such of his friends as Thurston could recruit came to the scientist's aid. With Thurston handling the reel for lowering the ten-foot thermometer, Mrs. Thurston holding the cable tight on the drum, young Thurston shifting coils, the daughter and Perret acting as signalmen, and Shepherd keeping his eyes glued on his galvanometer, they succeeded in immersing the instrument into the lava lake and getting the first accurate temperature reading of the molten lava, 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit.
Shepherd wanted to confirm the reading, whereupon they lowered the instrument into the lava a second time, but according to Shepherd, "Pele arose in her wrath, grasped the thermometer, flung hot lava on the supporting wires, thereby weakening them, and then with a final jerk broke the thermometer from its support and swallowed it. Pele seems to like ironware for diet." Shepherd also commented that no mechanical system could long withstand the strain and abuse which Pele applied to any foreign object invading her private lake.
In the fall of 1911, Thurston gave a luncheon at the University Club in Honolulu to revive the program begun two years earlier by him and Jaggar as well as to revive the subscription fund begun at the same time. Thurston reviewed the history of the observatory movement and went on to suggest that a local organization be established to obtain funds to carry on volcanic research, the funds to be administered and expended by an unpaid executive committee to be elected annually.
Thurston was elected chairman of the committee, which developed the name Hawaiian Volcano Research Association for the fledgling organization. The committee then went on to subscribe $5,000 annually for five years to supplement the Whitney Fund furnished by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Along with this, Clarence H. Cooke, Treasurer of the Association, guaranteed the amount subscribed by the committee in the event of failure on the part of subscribers to provide the funds.
With this encouraging start, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology granted a leave of absence to Jaggar in December 1911 and directed him to Kilauea to continue the investigations made in the summer of 1909 by Professor Daly as well as the work begun by Shepherd and Perret. Jaggar arrived in Honolulu the following month and after conferring with the committee and apprising the members of the program he planned, departed for Kilauea, arriving there on January 17, 1912. The next day Jaggar issued the first report of activity in the volcano since Shepherd's and Perret's departure, and the day after that he and Demosthenes Lycurgus launched a drive in Hilo to raise funds for the construction of an observatory building. Carpenters were busily putting up the building out of the $1,785 subscribed by Hilo merchants by February 16.
The cornerstone on which the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory was laid by Jaggar and the principles and objectives he defined for it are firm and lasting, for the institution has now begun its fifth decade of operation. For more than thirty years the observatory was managed by Jaggar under varied auspices, including the combined Hawaiian Volcano Research Association-Massachusetts Institute of Technology arrangement, the Weather Bureau, U. S. Geological Survey, and National Park Service, reverting in 1948 to the Geological Survey under Ruy H. Finch and subsequently under Dr. Gordon A. Macdonald, highly competent scientists both. When Jaggar reached the compulsory civil service retirement age in 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved an Executive Order extending the distinguished scientist's services for one year to enable him to complete some important research on which he was engaged at the time. A second Executive Order approved by the President in 1939 exempted the scientist from retirement for another year. Since his retirement in 1940 and until he passed away on January 17, 1953exactly forty-one years to the day after his arrival at KilaueaJaggar was a research fellow at the University of Hawaii.
The eminent geophysicist was a prolific author and a notable inventor, all of which brought him world-wide acclaim. In leading expeditions for the National Geographic Society to Alaska in the 1920's, he found transportation facilities inadequate, whereupon he invented an amphibious landing craft, the forerunner to the famous "Duck" used so effectively in landing troops in Europe and the Pacific in World War II. His voluminous notes on amphibious landings were adopted by the Army, Navy, and Marines practically as a bible for their campaigns. Other notable inventions by Jaggar included the sclerometer, which is used for measuring abrasion hardness, and an automatic location finder for aerial and surface navigation.
Jaggar's experiments with temperamental volcanoes are without parallel: for a month after the 1935 eruption of Mauna Loa began, the lava flows that it produced drained into the saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea and became generally confined there. But on December 21 a sudden change took place with the drainage of a large pool of lava which accumulated between the two mountains. The front of the flow began to pour into a valley leading directly into Hilo, and at once it became apparent to Jaggar that a crisis was developing. The flow fanned out as wide as 2,000 feet and moved at the rate of one mile per day. At that speed, it would pour into Hilo on January 9, but well before that it threatened to wipe out the sources of the city's water supply.
Jaggar recognized the threatening situation and immediately sent an urgent appeal to the Army in Honolulu for aircraft to bomb the ominous flow. Bombing, he speculated, would break up the stability of the flow and spread and divert the flowing mass throughout the region. After making a reconnaissance, the Army immediately dispatched a ship to Hilo with a supply of high-explosive bombs. By this time, the lava front had advanced to within fifteen miles of Hilo and five miles of the city's water sources. Army Air Corps planes were sent to Hilo for the bombing operation, and on December 27, a magnificently clear day, seven of the Keystone bombers took off from Hilo airport, each carrying two 600-pound explosive bombs and two 300-pound sighting missiles. Before the day was out, the bombers dropped six tons of explosives at strategic points on the flow, causing violent releases of gas, lava, and hydrostatic pressure and robbing the lower front of its substance and heat. Thirty-three hours after the bombing was concluded, the front of the flow stopped moving for half a day, and by January 2 all forward motion had ceased. The first such experiment of its kind in the history of science, it was repeated successfully when another lava flow from Mauna Loa threatened Hilo in 1942.
Jaggar's devoted study of volcanoes transformed speculation into science and gave him a place of eminence among the select men of science. He left a rich heritage for those who follow in his footsteps and for all of mankind as well. And in the establishment of the Land of Pele as a national park, Jaggar's contribution was second only to Thurston's.
Of the eminent and venerable scientist's passing the Honolulu Star Bulletin editorialized: "As a volcanologist, he was not content to observe and interpret. He felt a deep responsibility to put his knowledge to practical use and it was because of this that he sought means to protect people from the consequences of volcanoes on the loose." As long as Man ponders the question of the volcanoes he lives with, he will inevitably consult the works of Thomas A. Jaggar, Jr., first Dean of Pacific Volcanologists.
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