The USGS network of volcano observatories -- how does YVO fit?

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Fans of Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles are likely well aware of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) and its existence as a consortium of different state, federal and university partners (more details are available in a previous YCC article). You might not be so familiar, though, with how YVO fits in with the rest of volcano observatories in the U.S.

All U.S. observatories are funded through the Volcano Hazards Program, which is a line-item Program funded as part of the U.S. Geological Survey's budget assigned each year by Congress. Typically, around $25M goes towards the salaries and operational expenses of ~120 USGS employees, including a number of grants and cooperative agreements shared with universities.

There are five primary observatories staffed by people in four locations. The Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) is a three-way partnership among the USGS in Anchorage, plus the State of Alaska and University of Alaska, Fairbanks. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) was located at the edge of the KILAUEA caldera until late Spring, when it was displaced by intensive earthquake activity related to the current eruption; HVO staff have temporarily relocated to the town of Hilo, where they seek a new long-term home. The California Volcano Observatory (CalVO) operates out of the USGS offices in Menlo Park, CA, although they will soon be working out of NASA's campus in Mountain View. The Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO) "hangs its hat" in Vancouver, WA, where they look after the volcanoes of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho with assistance from the University of Washington. As you already know, YVO shares staff at those four USGS locations, as well as partner facilities including the National Park Service staff at Yellowstone.

There are two other notable functions of the Volcano Hazards Programs worth mentioning. First, the USGS operates volcano-monitoring equipment in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Most of the relevant staff members visit the CNMI from AVO, especially during the long Alaska winter when the Aleutian volcanoes are inaccessible. Second, the USGS has a group of ~20 scientists that constitute the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP). Formed in 1986, this group is largely funded by the US Agency for International Development's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, and is almost entirely dedicated to decreasing the threat of volcanic eruptions to populations around the world. VDAP assists foreign volcano observatories in monitoring, observatory protocols, communications strategies, and best practices. Lessons learned overseas are applied to our domestic volcanoes, and similarly, what's learned at US volcanoes like Kilauea, Yellowstone, Redoubt, Mount St. Helens, and Mammoth Mountain gets applied abroad.

One thing people may not recognize is that U.S. volcano observatories are interoperable—the computer systems, techniques, and staff are readily exchanged and shared. This year, many of the staff from YVO spent weeks working in HAWAII to help with the KILAUEA eruption response. Yellowstone geyser temperatures are recorded through a computer system in California. The website and data plots are supported by staff at CVO and AVO. Of course for YVO, the University of Utah and UNAVCO also share in the responsibility for day-to-day monitoring operations. Somehow it all works…perhaps all the more so because all these many observatories and their science partners around the country are united in a common cause. We all believe in objective measurement of volcanic phenomena, constant improvements to our systems, friendly skepticism of each other's observations and conclusions, and a firm commitment to scientific integrity and best practices. Most of us find ourselves working our dream job, and we are constantly grateful that the U.S. citizens provide the funding that makes the whole system function so well.

This is a photo of a fissure 8 lava roiling in the vent and feeding a pulsing channel.

Fisheye lens photograph of a USGS geologist making observations of the fissure 8 lava channel at sunset July 3, 2018. The field crew is at a high point overlooking the channel near where it makes a 90 degree turn around Kapoho Crater and flows south. The glow of the fissure 8 vent is the bright spot in the center of a different cone, Halekamahina.

(Public domain.)