Warning: Dangerous U.S. Volcanoes Not Properly Monitored

Warning: Dangerous U.S. Volcanoes Not Properly

Dangerous volcanoes in six states are not adequately monitored, U.S. Geological Survey officials said Friday. The agency called for a new nationwide warning system.

Geologists conducted a new survey of the 169 known U.S. volcanoes and ranked them according to their threat to human life, property and aviation safety.

Alaska, California, Washington State, Oregon, Hawaii, Wyoming all have "dangerous volcanoes with monitoring gaps or no monitoring in place," the report concludes.

"We cannot afford to wait until a hazardous volcano begins to erupt before deploying a modern monitoring effort," said USGS Director Chip Groat. "The consequences put property and people at risk - including volcano scientists on site and pilots and passengers in the air."

Though volcanoes erupt sporadically, the risk is real.

747 nearly lost

"We nearly lost a fully loaded Boeing 747 to volcanic ash cloud in Alaska in 1989," said Capt. Ed Miller of the Air Line Pilots Association.

Miller said a partnership with the USGS now provides warnings that help pilots avoid such plumes. When Mount St. Helens woke up last October and spewed ash, the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory notified air traffic control centers within five minutes.

By placing seismic instruments and other sensors on a volcanic mountain, geologists can detect early warning signs of possible eruptions and also note eruptions that are underway in remote locations. About half of the most threatening volcanoes are monitored at a basic level, the report found, while only a few are well watched.

"Monitoring capabilities at many hazardous volcanoes are sparse or antiquated, and some hazardous volcanoes have no ground-based monitoring whatsoever," the report states.

The report calls for a National Volcano Early Warning System (NVEWS) that would create a 24/7 Volcano Watch Office.

"This is the only way to forewarn communities at risk in enough time to activate emergency response plans, and ultimately help save lives and property," Groat said.

The hotspots

Since 1980, there have been 45 eruptions at 33 volcanoes in the United States. Of those, 15 were considered notable, the report found.

The report found 13 "very high threat volcanoes" with inadequate monitoring. Though some erupt infrequently and may be dormant now, geologists expect them to eventually reawaken, and many are near large population center. The list:

Alaska: Redoubt, Makushin, Akutan, and Augustine California: Shasta, Lassen Oregon: Hood, South Sister, Crater Lake, Baker, Newberry Washington: Rainier, Glacier Peak

USGS officials and geologists plans to meet with federal agencies, state and county emergency management agencies, businesses and other organizations to finalize plans for the nationwide early warning system.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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Robert is an independent health and science journalist and writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a former editor-in-chief of Live Science with over 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor. He has worked on websites such as Space.com and Tom's Guide, and is a contributor on Medium (opens in new tab), covering how we age and how to optimize the mind and body through time. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.