Monitoring California's active volcanoes—seismic unrest is on our radar

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Earthquakes rocked residents near the towns of Mammoth Lakes and Big Pine in eastern California this month, including a magnitude 3.74 and 3.44 on February 15 near Mammoth Lakes and another magnitude 4.8 near Big Pine on February 16.

These earthquakes were related to movement along regional faults, so-called tectonic earthquakes, unrelated to volcanic unrest. CalVO scientists maintain sophisticated seismic networks, arrays of several seismometers, that detect tectonic and volcanic earthquakes around California's potentially restless volcanoes.

Continuously recorded seismic data (in addition to precise GPS data for monitoring ground deformation) is essential for identifying earthquakes related to volcanic unrest. Seismic networks located around the state's potentially active volcanoes rely on solar panels for power and complex digital technology to transmit data back to CalVO 24/7. Winter, however, presents challenges for sensor operations and data transmission. CalVO scientists often have to ski or snowmobile to preform repairs at remote monitoring stations. Network engineer John Paskievitich, from the USGS Alaska Volcano Observatory visited CalVO recently to offer his insight in keeping networks up and running through challenging winter conditions. John notes that in Alaska, "we've figured out what doesn't work for us in the digital realm, what to avoid, and what we can count on and rely on." With continually refined monitoring techniques and upgrades to the network planned for the next few years, our scientists in California will be able to assess volcanic unrest and communicate the hazards more effectively.

CalVO's Stuart Wilkinson skis out to a remote seismic instrument in...

CalVO's Stuart Wilkinson skis out to a remote seismic instrument in the Long Valley volcanic region to perform routine maintenance.

(Credit: Wilkinson, Stuart. Public domain.)