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New Volcano Observatory Opens in California

Mono Lake, California, a potentially active volcano.
In eastern California, along the western edge of the Great Basin (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

The U.S. Geological Service has opened a fifth volcano observatory, this one in California, it announced today (Feb. 9).

The mission of the new California Volcano Observatory, located outside San Francisco, is to help volcanologists keep a better eye on the state's varied volcanic activity.

"California is the most geologically diverse state in the nation. We are known for our earthquakes, landslides and flood hazards. But our nearly forgotten hazard is our volcanoes," said John Parrish, California's state geologist.

The observatory is located within existing USGS facilities in Menlo Park. The observatory, CalVO for short, will increase awareness of the volcano threats in California, many of which pose significant threats to the public and the economy, the USGS said.

"By uniting the research, monitoring and hazard assessment for all of the volcanoes that pose a threat to the residents of California, CalVO will provide improved hazard-information products to the public and decision-makers alike," said USGS director Marcia McNutt.

CalVO is part of an effort to build a National Volcano Early Warning System. It joins the USGS' Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, Alaska Volcano Observatory, Cascades Volcano Observatory (outside Portland, Ore.) and Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

Officials at CalVO will research, monitor and assess hazards for all of the potentially active volcanoes in California and work with local and state emergency managers in the event of a volcanic crisis. Previously, the Cascades observatory, located in the southwestern Washington town of Vancouver, was responsible for responding to volcanic unrest at some Northern California volcanoes.

CalVO replaces the Long Valley Observatory, which was established in 1982 to monitor the restless Long Valley Caldera and Mono-Inyo Craters region of California.

"At the end of the day, the public expects us to plan for all hazards, and this is another great example," said Mike Dayton of the California Emergency Management Agency.

The list of potentially threatening volcanoes on CalVO's watch list includes Mount Shasta, Medicine Lake Volcano, Clear Lake Volcanic Field, and Lassen Volcanic Center in Northern California; Long Valley Caldera and Mono-Inyo Craters in east-central California; Salton Buttes, Coso Volcanic Field, and Ubehebe Craters in southern California; and Soda Lakes in central Nevada.

That watch list is subject to change as volcanic unrest develops or officials get new data on past eruptions.

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Live Science Staff
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