The U.S. may finally get an early warning system for volcanoes
By Robin George Andrews
America is home to 161 active volcanoes spread across 12 states and two overseas territories. This easily makes it one of the most volcanic places on Earth, which is why it’s deeply strange that the United States doesn’t yet have a nationwide early warning system for its fiery mountains.
A land conservation bill that passed the Senate earlier this month and passed the House on Tuesday has changed that. Sponsored by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the Natural Resources Management Act, or S.47, pushes for sweeping changes to how many of America’s natural marvels are managed. The bill has received widespread attention for designating over million new acres of wilderness—but its call for the establishment of the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System (NVEWS) has gone largely unnoticed.
This system would provide the United States Geological Survey (USGS) with the ability to keep an eye on those 161 volcanoes at a level deserving of their threatening natures. NVEWS would “modernize, standardize and stabilize” the USGS’s volcano observatories—the Alaska, California, Cascades, Hawai‘ian and Yellowstone chapters—while making their monitoring networks a single, inter-operative system.
The coverage of instrumentation, from seismic sensors and GPS stations to gas detectors, varies a lot. There is “a modest amount” of coverage on 88 of the 161 total, according to [Charles Mandeville, the program coordinator for the USGS Volcano Hazards Program]. Alaska, home to a staggering 52 active volcanoes, only has instrumentation for 31 of them. In the Cascades, home to plenty of ominous volcanoes, monitoring equipment is frequently outdated. Only now, for example, is Mount Rainier is getting an upgraded early warning system to warn those living downslope of any incoming lahars, fast-moving concrete-like slurries of mud and volcanic debris.