Dr. Thomas Jaggar – A Volcanic Hero in Hawaii

Dr. Thomas Jaggar and wife, Isabel Maydwell – 1917

He did not wear a cape and cannot compare with the legendary Pele, but the work of Volcanologist, Thomas Jaggar, lives on in humble heroic fashion at Kilauea. Visitors to Volcano are often unaware that Jaggar was the driving force in establishing the Hawaii Volcano Observatory and one of the key lobbyist for the creation of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. His subterranean studies of volcanic activity have given contemporary scientists a greater understanding of eruptions and the potential to predict their fury, thus saving the lives of countless thousands around the world who reside along the slopes of active volcanoes.

Kilauea Eruption – 1924

Jaggar dedicated his entire life (1871-1953) to Geology and Earth Sciences. While earning a Ph.D. from Harvard and when Chair of MIT’s Department of Geology, he spent this first part of his career conducting research primarily in a lab setting. He knew in order to expand his knowledge of the earth’s core field study was imperative.

In 1902, Jaggar was one of the first scientists to arrive and experience the aftermath of a massive eruption in the Caribbean. Mt. Pelee’s cataclysmic pyroclastic flows decimated the city of St. Pierre on Martinique and nearly 29,000 residents perished in their wake. Witnessing the extreme loss of life, Jaggar vowed to dedicate his own life to better understand the nature and patterns of active Volcanoes. In doing so, he hoped to one day offer the scientific data to predict eruptions, and potentially save lives.
(L-R) Norton Twigg-Smith, Thomas Jaggar, Lorin Thurston, Joe Monez & Alex Lancaster    

Arriving to lecture in Honolulu in 1909, he soon convinced businessman Lorrin Twigg-Smith that Kilauea on The Big Island was the ideal location to

establish a permanent research observatory, the first of its kind in the United States. In 1912, his dream was realized and a small structure was built along the rim of Kilauea’s caldera. This site was to be his laboratory for almost 5 decades, and is still a working field laboratory today. For over 100 years the HVO has attracted volcanologists from all over the world to study two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. On your trip to Kilauea, a visit to the Jaggar Museum is a must. When you are at the Halema’uma’u Crater outlook, salute Dr. Jaggar and the life he gave to advance the study of the fluid earth on which you are standing.

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