Public-lands bill gives boost to volcano warning, monitoring systems

By:  Andy Matarrese
Source: The Columbian

The wide-ranging Natural Resources Management Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and which passed Tuesday in the U.S. Senate, includes a provision to improve volcano early warning and monitoring systems. 

“We’re trying to enhance volcano monitoring by giving more resources to those facilities that don’t currently have monitoring,” Cantwell told The Columbian on Tuesday, pointing to Glacier Peak and Mount Baker. 

Glacier Peak has a single monitoring device, and much of Mount Baker’s monitoring apparatus has been dismantled over time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. 

Washington is home to five active volcanoes, four of which are considered high-risk by the USGS.

The agency’s list of hazardous volcanoes, updated last year, ranks Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier among the top five most dangerous volcanoes in the country. Mount Baker and Glacier Peak also earned “very high” threat rankings, according to the USGS, and Mount Adams is ranked as a “high” threat. 

Nearby Mount Hood in Oregon is also ranked as a “very high” threat. 

“Obviously, Vancouver gets it,” Cantwell said. 

The volcano bill, included as one of the 110 bills in the act, would establish a national early warning and monitoring system; upgrade, network and standardize those systems nationwide; and create a round-the-clock volcano watch office. 

John Ewert, a volcanologist with the USGS’s Cascade Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, said the bill, should it become law, would assist continued efforts by the agency to better monitor what it considers hazardous volcanoes, expanding on the framework it created in 2005 with its first nationwide volcanic threat assessment. 

“You don’t want to be playing catch-up with a volcano,” he said. “If we have instruments in the ground, and we’ve made sure to do in-depth research studies ahead of time, we’ll have a much better, longer lead time on the volcano as it reawakens.” 

Ewert said the bill would also make formal, and smoother, many internal processes within the agency to coordinate between its volcano observatories and other agencies. 

“It’s going to allow us to address needs for more and better instrumentation on high-threat volcanoes,” he said. “It allows us really to improve and formalize our collaboration with other federal and state local and academic partners on how we monitor and evaluate hazards, and then how we respond to volcanoes when they reawaken.”