Thomas Jaggar


Thomas Jaggar

Thomas A. Jaggar (1871-1953) was the founder and first Director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In 1897, he received his Ph.D. in geology from Harvard University. He spent the next few years as a scientist in the laboratory. He felt strongly that experimentation was the key to understanding earth science. Jaggar constructed water flumes bedded by sand and gravel in order to understand stream erosion and melted rocks in furnaces to study the behavior of magmas.

As he matured as a scientist, he began to feel the increasing need for field experimentation. Jaggar wrote at this time,

"Whereas small scale experiments in the laboratory helped me to think about the details of nature...there remained the need to measure nature itself."

Thus Jaggar began a decade-long period of exploration to witness and analyze first-hand natural geologic processes.

In 1902, he was one of the scientists that the United States sent to investigate the volcanic disasters at Soufrière and Mont Pelée. With the help of the U.S. Navy and the National Geographic Society, Jaggar landed on the steaming shores of Martinique some 13 days after the disaster.

In his autobiography published in 1956, Jaggar recounts,

"It was hard to distinguish where the streets had been. Everything was buried under fallen walls of cobblestone and pink plaster and tiles, including 20,000 bodies....As I look back on the Martinique experience I know what a crucial point in my life it was....I realized that the killing of thousands of persons by subterranean machinery totally unknown to geologists...was worthy of a life work."

The next 10 years of Jaggar's life brought expeditions to the scenes of great earthquakes and eruptions in Italy, the Aleutians, Central America, and Japan. With each trip, Jaggar became increasingly concerned that his field studies were but brief, inadequate snapshots of long-term, dynamic, earth processes. In 1908, an earthquake killed 125,000 people near Mt. Etna in Italy. With this disaster, Jaggar declared that "something must be done" to support systematic, ongoing studies of volcanic and seismic activity. He traveled to Hawaii in 1909 at his own expense, determined that Kilauea was to be the home of the first `American volcano observatory'.

After a lecture on his Martinique expedition in Honolulu, Jaggar was approached by the Honorable Lorrin A. Thurston of the "Pacific Commercial Advertiser". Thurston, like Jaggar, believed that Kilauea was a prime site for a permanent volcano observatory and inquired of Jaggar, "Is it then a question of money?". Within a year of this conversation, the Hawaii Volcano Research Association was formed, with financial backing from Honolulu businessmen. A small observing station was set up on the rim of Halema`uma`u crater (a pit crater with Kilauea's summit caldera). In 1912, support was forthcoming from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and construction of the new Hawaiian Volcano Observatory began.

During his early years as Director, Jaggar struggled after private endowments with the hope of eventually securing sponsorship by the Federal Government. In 1919, Jaggar convinced the National Weather Service to adopt HVO. The U.S. Geological Survey took over its operation in 1924, with the exception of a brief hiatus during the Depression, when HVO was run by the National Park Service.

Jaggar remained Director of HVO until 1940.

References

* [http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/volcanowatch/1997/97_03_21.html Hawaiian Volcano Observatory's Volcano Watch article on Thomas Jaggar]


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