University of Hawaii, January 2014.
In March 2013, researchers from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and UH Hilo began drilling at 64-hundred feet above sea level, between the mountains of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea in the saddle region of the Big Island of Hawaiʻi.
UH Mānoa professor Donald Thomas is leading the effort, called the Humuʻula Saddle Hydrologic Study Project.
What they discovered seven months later may radically change conventional wisdom regarding the state’s most valuable resource: fresh water.
“The conventional model that we worked with for years and years is that we have a relatively thin basal fresh water lens, is what we call it,” said UH Professor Donald Thomas, the director of the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes. “A layer of fresh water saturated rock that rises very slowly as we move inland.”
According to that conventional model developed decades ago, the research team should have had to drill for 5,900 feet to 500 feet above sea level, before reaching the Big Island’s fresh water supply.
“We found something just completely different,” said Thomas. “The stable water table in the saddle is not 500 feet above sea level. It’s more like 4,500 feet above sea level. So we are almost ten times higher than we could have expected when we started out on the project.”
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