AMHERST, N.Y. — From her first trip to Kilauea in 1992, Tracy Gregg was hooked.
"I've spent my career studying specifically lava flows and how the lava moves and how it responds to the environment," said Tracy Gregg, Ph.D., University at Buffalo associate professor of geology.
And aside from trips to the Aloha State every several years, she's doing all the research from her office in Hochstetter Hall on UB's North Campus, more than 4,500 miles away from the current episode on Hawaii's big island.
"While my heart goes out to the people who are being displaced and affected by that eruption, the amount of data the people on the ground, the homeowners, are generating is phenomenal and something we've never seen before. So people will step out of their houses and with their cellphones film incredible volcanic activity. That's data!" said Gregg.
Gregg says she can tell how fast the lava is moving, how thick it is and how high gasses shoot the molten rock into the air. Two-hundred and fifty feet is the max height United States Geological Survey workers have recorded.
"All of that is information, live on the ground information that we couldn't get 20 years ago," said Gregg.
The most recent episode has been going on for 38 days and no one really knows how much longer it will last. She says this is also the first time in human history scientists have seen lava coming out so far away from the volcano's summit. As of last week, USGS reported nearly eight square miles were covered by lava.
"Imagine UB's North Campus, covered with 10 feet of lava, and then imagine 10 more of those," said Gregg.
Scientists say they hope this most recent episode will give them more information to be able to better predict and possibly even manage lava flows in the future.
"Every day, I'm learning something, just watching the videos that people have taken, looking at how the lava advances and how it responds to its environment. It is going to advance faster when it has a road to flow down, as opposed to as through a forest. All those techniques, those observations, then can we use those to help us build lava diversions or something in the future to help protect future developments," said Gregg.