PubTalk 2/2018 — USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory

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Detailed Description

Title: The USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory - Research, monitoring, and the science of preparing society for low-probability, high-consequence events

  • Volcanoes in the Cascade Range erupt twice per century on average, with eruptions often lasting for years.
  • Although eruptions are generally not as high-consequence as large earthquakes, they are still high-consequence events.
  • When a volcano wakes up there can be intense public interest - which requires crisis management, even if the eruption is small.


Date Taken:

Length: 01:18:39

Location Taken: Menlo Park, CA, US




[inaudible background conversations]

Okay. Hello, everyone, and welcome
to this evening’s public lecture,

which will be given by
Seth Moran of the

USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory
in Vancouver, Washington.

Before I introduce Seth, though,
I’d like to draw your attention

to our next public lecture,
which will be on March 22nd.

It’s entitled Snow and Avalanche
Science – Highlights of Applied

Avalanche Research and Forecasting
by Eric Pietzsch of the USGS.

We are very lucky to have Seth Moran
here today, who is currently serving as

the scientist in charge of the
USGS’ Cascades Volcano

Observatory in Vancouver.
And he’s been in this role since 2015.

Seth’s volcano career began in 1974
when his parents took him

as a 7-year-old to see the
still-steaming year-old lava flows

erupted in 1973 by
Eldfell Volcano in Iceland.

A wonderful public library
continued to feed his interest

in volcanoes and earthquakes
while he grew up in the

decidedly non-volcanically active area
of Amherst, Massachusetts. [laughter]

He began to sink his teeth into volcanoes
for real at Oberlin College in Ohio,

where he earned a
degree in geology in 1988.

And then, realizing that rocks
weren’t quite his thing, he shifted over

to seismology for his graduate studies,
earning a master’s and Ph.D. degrees

in geophysics from the University
of Washington in 1992 and 1997

for studies of seismicity at
Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier.

In 1997, he was hired as a volcano
seismologist by the USGS’ Alaska

Volcano Observatory in Anchorage,
where he spent six happy years studying

and monitoring Alaskan volcanoes
and also learning how to skate ski.

In 2003, he moved to Vancouver,
along with his wife Elisa and two kids,

Shannon and Sarah …
- [inaudible]

- … to take a job as volcano seismologist
at the Cascades Volcano Observatory.

Mount St. Helens began erupting a
scant year after his move –

an unexpected 3-1/4-year-long eruption
that absorbed much of his time between

many lessons are still being learned.

And while not spending time at
work or with his family,

Seth plays fiddle in a bluegrass band.

So without further ado,
here is Seth.


- Thanks, Jen.
- Canada or Vancouver, Washington?

- Thanks, Jen. So just to clarify,
CVO is in Vancouver, Washington.

And thank you all
for coming tonight.

And just want to start off by making a
declarative statement that I love my job.

And the job title is cool-sounding –
scientist in charge. [laughter]

And what that often means is,
in charge of herding cats. [laughter]

And there’s not as much
in charge as one might think.

But 2-1/2 years ago,
when I took this job,

I didn’t think I was ever
going to say I love this job.

And that’s because it’s a
management job, and there’s

a lot of personnel things and budget
things and rules things and having

people get unhappy with you,
and all that is happening.

And also, before this job,
I did research as my primary job

avocation as a volcano seismologist.
And I thought that that would end.

And, in fact, it has.
And so, despite those things,

there’s another part of the job that
I’m finding really interesting, which is,

the main part of the job
is facilitating science.

And that’s the science in the
observatory and also across other groups.

And what that means is that you have to
understand people’s science so that

you can prioritize research directions
in the observatory so that you can

prioritize where money is going within
the observatory and so you can also

advocate for your researchers’ science
and also take it out on the road

and present it to other folks
in a way that is compelling.

And all that requires somewhat
of an in-depth understanding

of what everybody is doing.
And so what I’ve found is that,

in the course of trying to get
good at this job, I’ve had to learn

what all these other people are doing.
And it’s been really fun.

The scope of work in the observatory –
I sort of had an idea what it was,

but mostly I was spending my time
as a volcano seismologist in

one little corner and didn’t really
think or learn that much about this.

And so that part has been –
has been really fun.

And so what I’m here to talk to you
about tonight is what I’ve learned about

the Cascades Volcano Observatory –
who we are, what we do,

and why we exist.
And I know that none of that is in

the title, and it’s – you can accuse me
of false advertising. But there’s a hook.

And the hook is the
part about why we exist.

We are funded by taxpayers.
And anybody who is funded

by the public needs to be able
to explain why it’s important

for the public to
be doing that.

And, in our case, in the Cascades, we
have something of a challenge because

we get eruptions about once – two times
a century – once every 50 years or so.

And that’s the definition,
or one definition,

of a low-probability,
high-consequence event.

And 50 years is about enough time
for 1-1/2 generations to – this is going

to sound weird – don’t take it the
wrong way, but to rotate out. [laughter]

And that’s long enough for
people to forget what’s happened.

And that’s starting to happen
with Mount St. Helens right now.

It erupted in 1980,
and we’re 38 years after that.

And now, when we go out –
when I got out, more people that I meet

weren’t there in 1980, either because
they hadn’t been born yet, which is

still hard for me to get my mind
around [laughter], or because

they moved into Portland,
like from California.

I don’t know why anybody would want to 
move from California, but [laughter] –

so it’s just a – it’s – we’re starting
to see that happen at St. Helens,

and one of the things that
we’re having to do is tell the story.

So anyway, long story short, that’s the –
that’s the sort of scope of tonight’s talk

is to – is to introduce you to the folks
I work with and where I work.

And here are the folks that I work with.
This is a, you can see, fairly happy group

of people – happy because we know that
if we don’t smile, we’re going to have

to stay outside in the cold for
another couple of shots. [laughter]

But also people pretty much
generally enjoy working there.

We were born in 1980, basically,
with the Mount St. Helens eruption.

Before that, there was
no USGS office in –

that was looking at volcanoes
specifically – in the Pacific Northwest.

When St. Helens erupted,
it became very clear that this

was a multi-year thing and there
needed to be a permanent presence.

And so that was finalized in May
of 1982. So that’s our origin story.

We are one of five observatories
that are operated by the USGS.

There’s also the observatory in –
here in Menlo Park – the California

Volcano Observatory that has
jurisdiction over California and Nevada.

The Hawaii Volcano Observatory
is the oldest observatory –

were officially anointed.

Alaska Volcano Observatory has all of
Alaska. They came into being in 1988.

And then finally there’s the
Yellowstone Volcano Observatory,

which is – has Yellowstone and
then a lot of other volcanoes in, like,

New Mexico and
Utah and California.

So there’s five of those
volcano observatories.

This next fact is boring,
but it’s there for a future acronym

that you’ll see on a future slide.
So we’re organized under something

that’s called the USGS
Volcano Science Center.

And that’s the umbrella under which all
of the volcanoes are monitored and all of

the volcano science activities are sort
of administered. It’s called the VSC.

Those observatories cover all of the 160
active volcanoes in the United States.

And by “active,” what’s meant
is that there’s been something

that’s come out of the ground
in the last 10,000 years. [laughter]

So it could be just –
could be just once.

And there’s a couple that slide in
not quite under that definition.

Like Yellowstone hasn’t had
something in tens of thousands of years,

but it still counts as active.

And then, out of that, there are 18 that
are considered to be very high threat.

And I’ll explain what I mean
by that a little bit later on.

But that’s the overall context
in the United States in which

the Cascades Volcano
Observatory is operating.

So a little bit of who all those people
were in that picture I showed you.

In our building,
there are 85 folks,

at least the last time I walked
around the offices and counted.

And those break out into
a lot of different projects.

And there’s one project here called the
Volcano Disaster Assistance Program,

which is our international group
that works with other countries

to help develop capabilities,
to transfer knowledge,

and also for us to gain experience
with active volcanoes in other places.

And we can bring that experience to
bear back into the United States.

So that’s a fairly healthy
program – 15 or so folks.

We also have a fairly healthy group
of retirees that are still working,

which is great, and then there’s
things like our admin wing for the

entire Volcano Science Center.
Most of them are based in Vancouver.

We have a Volcano Emissions
Program that works across

many of the

Our web presence – a number of the
folks that manage that are there.

And, as of September – or, October,
we have the Yellowstone Volcano

Observatory scientist in charge
located at Vancouver, Washington,

which confuses
lots and lots of people.

But that’s just where
his office physically is.

So out of all of that, there’s the
CVO Project, which has 31 people.

And I’m counting things in ways
that some other people might

count things differently. In truth,
there’s a lot of bleed-over between,

say, VDAP and the CVO Project.
Some people in CVO work for VDAP,

and vice versa,
at different times.

But 31 is the rough number,
so that’s a lot smaller than 86.

And this is how the
CVO Project is broken out.

It’s roughly into half research
and half research support,

in terms of making instruments work,
in terms of doing all the IT stuff,

keeping the facility working,
and also outreach.

So this is also a little
bit boring, I recognize.

But the point of this is that there’s
about 30, 35 folks that are

working in the Cascades.
And sometimes people look at all the

people in the office, and they go, well,
why do you need all these people?

And the answer is,
we don’t have all those people.

Although it’d be
great if we did.

The job descriptions are really varied,
which is one of the fun things

that’s working – about working
for a volcano observatory.

I have this – I bring this slide
when I’m talking to, like, career fairs

and middle school students
who are interested in STEM careers.

The point being, you don’t have to
like rocks to be a volcanologist.

Nor do you have to
necessarily be a Ph.D. scientist.

There’s all these different things –
I mean, people who understand

computers, who understand IT,
who are really good at admin –

wow, do we need good
people who are administrators.

Because the bureaucracy
we deal with is pretty immense.

And outreach specialists and –
as well as geodesists and geochemists.

And one of the also fun things about
working at an observatory is that

these folks – we all have
our offices next to each other.

And so, I can go across the hall,
as a seismologist, and talk to

a geochemist and have, actually,
a pretty good conversation where we

sort of are kind of speaking the same
language – the volcano language.

Whereas, in the university, that can be –
a university, that can be kind of hard

to pull off because oftentimes
they’re in different parts of the campus,

and they don’t necessarily
have that common language.

So that’s another one of the fun things
about working at an observatory.

In terms of the Cascades –
now I’m sort of going to

set the stage for the
geography of where we work.

This is a map that shows all of the
triangles in the western United States –

places where magma has come out of the
ground in the last 10,000, 12,000 years.

That red circle shows
where we are today.

That’s – actually, that’s a lot of –
it goes from San Jose to San Francisco.

That’s a really big circle.

And up here is – this line of triangles
here is the Cascade Range.

And it has some volcanoes
that you’ve probably heard about,

like Mount St. Helens,
which is located right there.

And Crater Lake, which is
located in southern Oregon

and where the geologic story has
really been unraveled and told by

Menlo Park geologists, including
Charlie Bacon, most famously.

And then there’s volcanoes you probably
haven’t heard of, like Glacier Peak,

which is located right smack in the dab
of a really dense wilderness

with lots of tall old-growth trees.
And it’s also one of the more explosive

volcanoes in the Cascades,
and that’s one that we –

that we are constantly thinking about –
how can we monitor it better.

And I’ll tell a story about
Glacier Peak a little bit later on.

And then finally, there’s one
that probably nobody’s heard of

called Diamond Craters. So it runs the
gamut from famous to not-so-famous.

There’s also a stretch in here where
you can have a really good day.

And that stretch is right there. My
definition of a good day is a 10-volcano

day, when you can stand in one place
and look out and see 10 volcanoes.

And actually, there’s another volcano
off to the left of this that I just

couldn’t get in the camera view,
which is called Newberry Volcano.

So it’s actually – there’s a lot of
volcanoes, and that’s one of the

really cool things, especially
about central Oregon.

And to continue the cool story,
here is Portland, and here is CVO –

this is where
we’re located.

And all of these patches and circles
are vents from the Boring Lava Field.

Portland is the only
major metropolitan area in the

United States that has an
active volcanic field in its midst.

These little vents pop off
about every 15,000 years or so.

They’ve been doing that
for several million years.

The most recent one was
about 57,000 years ago,

so by one metric,
you could say we’re overdue.

That’s supposed to be ominous.
We’re overdue.

And so – you know,
so we’re in the midst of this.

We actually have a local volcano
near us – about 5 or 6 miles away

is Green Mountain.
That’s CVO’s little local volcano.

And so there’s a lot of things
to be excited about in terms of

volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest.
And that’s probably the reason why

there’s so many really cool beers named
after volcanoes or volcanic features.


But I digress.
Back to CVO.

So our turf is Washington,
Oregon, and Idaho.

That’s the place where we’re sort of
supposed to be primary and focusing

on understanding the volcanoes better
and monitoring and mitigating.

That’s not to say that, if something
gets cooking, that we would not

bring in people from other observatories.
For sure people from Menlo Park.

For sure from Alaska.
For sure from Hawaii.

We sort of have mutual aid
understanding amongst

all the observatories that,
once an eruption really gets going,

it’s hard for one
observatory to take it all in.

So in our authoritative area,
at least in Washington and Oregon,

there are 25 places where magma
has come out of the ground

in the last

And I mentioned this before –
this very high threat thing.

There’s eight of the 18 very high threat
volcanoes in the United States that are

located in Washington and Oregon,
and they go Mount Baker, Glacier Peak,

Mount Rainier, and
Mount St. Helens in Washington.

And then they go Mount Hood,
Three Sisters, Newberry,

and Crater Lake in Oregon.
So what is this very high threat thing?

Well, that’s – threat is another –
a synonym for risk.

And this comes out of a study that
was done by the USGS in 2005

that looked at two factors –
it looked at the volcanic hazards,

which is, what can
happen at a volcano?

Can it erupt explosively?
How frequently has it erupted?

And how – and other things like,
does it produce large mudflows?

And then there’s the vulnerability,
or the exposure.

Is there anybody in the way?
And if so, how many of them?

And also, what type of
infrastructure is in the way?

And that’s – all factors
into the exposure score.

So you take those two, and you
combine them, and out pops a number

that allows you to relatively rank all
of the volcanoes in the United States.

And so that was done back in 2005.
And out of the 160, there were

Eight of those are in CVO’s turf.

And so that’s what those
red triangles on that map show.

In the Cascades –
I mentioned this before –

there are roughly
two eruptions per century.

And to put this in perspective,
in our neck of the woods,

the big thing that everybody
is worried about is the big one.

Down here, the big one is San Andreas.
Up in Washington and Oregon, it’s –

and Vancouver or British Columbia –
it’s the big one of the Cascadia

earthquake, which is going to be,
like, a magnitude 9 – thereabouts.

The last one happened in January 1700.
They happen about 450 to 500 years.

There’s a little bit of
controversy about that number.

But roughly speaking, 450, 500.
And so, in between those

big earthquakes – and they will be –
the next one is going to be

a huge consequence.
There’s no question about that.

But in between those two earthquakes,
there are going to be nine or 10

eruptions in the Cascades.
Somewhere – we don’t know where,

but somewhere in the
Cascades, nine or 10.

And each one of those is going to be
a lot lower consequence than the

Cascadia earthquake, but there’s
still going to be big consequence.

That’s one of the things we learned
in 2004 with Mount St. Helens,

when we had a
really, really small eruption.

And for about three weeks,
it paralyzed the West Cost in terms of

media attention and all the people
that were really just following the thing

and taking down websites
because they were just pinging it

too many times
with data information.

And people were also out at the
volcano trying to see an explosion.

And it created this person issue because
there were 5 miles of roadways where

people were camped along the sides,
and there were no services out there.

So how do you deal with
that for a couple weeks?

So even for really, really bitty
eruptions, there’s a lot of consequence.

And that’s something that we need
to be telling the story about to make sure

that communities around
the volcanoes are prepared for.

Okay, so that’s sort of
the rough context of CVO.

And now I’m going to dive a little bit
deeper and go into how we

organize ourselves, or how – sort of
the areas of focus of our work.

And there’s really three of them.
First is research.

Second is monitoring. And the third
is community preparedness.

And that last one is,
in some ways, the hardest one.

Because a lot of us come out a research
type of program, and there’s nothing

in those programs that prepare us
for what’s really more a social science

kind of thing about the effectiveness
of messaging and what are the

best practices for talking
with folks that are coming from

a lot of different

But that’s the Volcano Observatory
in the middle of all that.

And all of this is in the
context of external partners.

So we have – on the community
preparedness side of things,

we have external stakeholders from
counties, the state, things like that.

And then also
monitoring and research,

we have a lot of academic colleagues
that are working with us as well.

And a lot of this is true also for CalVO
down here and many of the other

observatories. So I’m just going to
give quick examples of each of those.

Research – a really sort of
rubber-meets-the-road example

of the importance of research is
establishing eruption histories.

So this slide here
is from 2000.

And it shows all of the eruptions
that have happened in the Cascades

over the last 4,000 years – going from

And each one of these icons,
there’s actually – there’s good reason

for believing that magma did come
out of the ground at that point.

So one thing you can do
in terms of assessing a hazard

is to just count the number of icons,
and that gives you your rate.

So based on that, Mount St. Helens
is the most frequently active.

And then it goes to
Glacier Peak as number two.

And then you come down to
California – Mount Shasta, number three.

Medicine Lake, number four.
And Mount Rainier, number five.

Now, since then, a number of geologists
have spent time at Mount Rainier doing

some fairly careful field work and have
discovered evidence for small eruptions,

but definitely eruptions that
were not known at this time.

And so when you bring
those into the picture,

all the sudden, Mount Rainier
pops up to number two.

There’s a lot of eruptions that were
added in the 2,000 to 3,000 years ago.

So that is an important data point
to be able to give to our partners.

And this, again, comes back to the –
even if it’s a small eruption,

it’s still a high-consequence
eruption, particularly locally.

They all – all of them matter.

I’m going to zoom in
on Glacier Peak now

and give you another for instance
of how this – how this matters.

So Glacier Peak let loose a really large
eruption about 13,500 years ago.

This is a deposit that was left by
that eruption that’s 100 meters thick.

There’s a person
for scale right there.

And this is a couple miles
away from the volcano.

So this is a lot of
stuff that came down.

And just for perspective,
this is a map that shows

the distribution of ashfall from
a couple of really large eruptions.

So here’s the Yellowstone – the most
recent eruption 600,000 years ago.

This is its expanse –
goes off the map.

Long Valley here in California –
also a very big eruption.

Crater Lake in Oregon –
also a fairly big one.

Here’s Mount St. Helens,
this little tongue – 1980.

Much, much smaller
than those other ones.

And then here’s Glacier Peak
from 13,500 years ago.

It’s quite a bit bigger
than Mount St. Helens.

And there’s a good question about,
how often should we expect those

kinds of things? And that’s where
the geologic record is important.

It turns out, they’re not very likely.
They’re not very common.

So here’s a timeline going
from 15,000 years to the present.

And this is
that one outlier.

And then here are five –
four or five instances where

we know magma
came out of the ground.

Those were much,
much smaller eruptions.

In fact, they were much smaller
than Mount St. Helens in 1980.

They were about

And so this becomes important because
we need to be able – in certain instances,

be able to tell people what
we think is the most likely thing

that’s going to happen.
And, in this case, what we would

say is that, based on the
last 10,000 years, the most likely

thing to happen is an
eruption that’s not that big.

This factors into things
like estimating – to providing

information about ash hazards.
So one question people sometimes

ask is, should I be thinking
about ash falling on me?

And I’ve put this
question more directly.

What are the chances of
measurable ashfall in Seattle?

So this plot right here is output
from a fairly new model that has

been put together by Larry Mastin
from our office that takes an eruption

of a certain size and puts it in the air
and then brings in wind fields

that come from the
National Weather Service.

And the wind fields push
the ash in certain directions.

And then the ash
falls in this model,

and he’s able to track the thickness –
how much piles up in different places.

And what this map shows
is the result of doing that

kind of modeling for 1,000 different
days with 1,000 different wind patterns.

And he watches where they go and then
compiles statistics for a millimeter of ash,

which is about 0.04 inches of ash –
basically measurable –

what’s a measurable amount of ash.
And so what these contours show is that,

in Seattle, if there was an eruption
at Glacier Peak, there would be

a daily chance – about 1% –
of a millimeter of ash falling on Seattle.

Which would be a pretty big deal
if a millimeter fell on Seattle.

There’s a lot of steps in that.
It’s what the statisticians call

a conditional probability because
there’s a couple of probabilities involved.

The most likely eruption
is a small dome collapse.

There’s been four of
those in the last 10,000 years.

So it’s 1 in 2,500
for a yearly average.

And then here is –
the eruption happened.

What are the chances that wind
would be blowing towards Seattle?

That’s basically encapsulated in this 1%.
And then put that – all that into an

ash model, and there’s the answer –

in Seattle if there is eruption.
So turning that into a number,

it’s a 1 in 250,000 annual chance,
or 1 in 91,250,000 daily chance.

That’s the two
probabilities together –

the probability of an eruption
and the probability of ashfall.

So to put those in perspective,
Powerball odds [laughter]

are about 1 in 292,000,000.

So it’s more likely than winning
the Powerball on a daily basis.

But getting into a car
accident is about 1 in 5,500.

So when you’re trying to stack up
all the things there are to worry about,

car accidents are the thing that’s
more likely to happen to all of us.

Everybody gets into
four accidents in their lifetime.

Which is a depressing
statistic, but – so drive safe.

So next thing is going to monitoring.
And the principle of monitoring is that,

when magma moves towards
the surface, it breaks a pathway.

It releases gases.

And the chamber may increase
in volume or decrease in volume.

And each of those things results
in phenomena that we can detect

with instruments at the surface.
We can see earthquakes with

seismometers on the surface.
We can detect emissions of magmatic

gases, particularly SO2 and –
sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide.

And, with GPS instruments, we can
see if the ground is rising or falling.

And so that informs a strategy,
which is that we need to have

instruments on the ground.
And we’ve learned through

experience that it’s important to
have a lot of instruments in the ground.

How many? In this case, arguing
for 12 to 20, which is an awful lot.

And the reason for that is that
these signs and symptoms of

magma moving can be really
subtle, especially at the start.

They can be
magnitude zero or 1 earthquakes.

It’s very, very rare to see an earthquake
larger than magnitude 3 at a volcano.

In terms of deformation of the
ground surface, that usually is

something on the order of a centimeter,
or maybe even a couple of millimeters.

And you really can’t see that unless
you have enough GPS instruments

that are trying to tell you where they are.
And also, they need to be in close

because the deformation is oftentimes
focused right on the volcano.

So that’s kind of the monitoring goal
for these very high-threat volcanoes

is to build up the instrumentation so
that we can see some of these things.

To give you a sense of what the
instrumentation that we put out

looks like, this is a fairly typical
seismic station with GPS receiver.

This is the GPS receiver.
This is the antenna up here.

And there’s a seismometer buried
at the corner of this enclosure.

This enclosure here has all the batteries
in it and the solar panels and the radio.

And this site’s been out
there for seven years now.

It’s near Newberry. It gets a lot of snow.
It gets lots of lightning.

And so far, it’s not been fried.
It’s also painted in a very attractive

color of brown, which we selected after
consultation with the Forest Service,

which told us they didn’t want just raw
metal up there because it would be shiny,

and that would potentially
cause visual disturbance

for people who
are walking around.

Here’s a picture of
an atypical seismic station.

This one is our highest-elevation site
that we operate, I think kind of

anywhere in – actually, Mauna Loa’s
got one or two that are higher.

This is at 11,000 feet on Mount Rainier.
You can see it’s surrounded by

pretty significant glaciers on both sides.
And this is what it looks like

up close and personal.
It looks very different from the

other site because we have to
reinforce it with all kinds of pipes and

stuff like that because it gets buried by
about 40 feet of snow each year, and it

stays that way for most of the year –
about nine, 10 months out of the year.

And we have to service
that site quite a bit as it is.

But it’s a very important
site because it’s close.

And then this is a close
site at Mount St. Helens.

It’s actually on top of
the vent from 1980.

And this was a fairly low snow year,
and still we had to out in March

to un-bury it because we lost the signal.
And this is something – it’s just part of

the deal of working at high altitudes
and in close at volcanoes is that

we have to figure out some way of
making our instrumentation work.

In the event that we don’t have all the
instruments that we need at a volcano,

we have a couple of fallbacks.
One is this platform that we

call colloquially a Spider
because it kind of looks like a spider.

It’s got these arms
that stick out on both sides.

And this can be sent out by helicopter.
There’s a sling hook right here that hooks

on to the long line of a helicopter,
and the helicopter pilot can fly it out

to where you want it to be
and be in and out of harm’s way

in about 10 or 15 minutes.
Whereas, in the olden days,

you had to have people
out there that were digging holes

and pouring cement
and things like that.

On this platform,
you can hang a bunch of instruments.

There’s a seismometer right there.

There’s a lightning detector for looking
for lightning that’s caused in ash clouds.

Infrasound for detecting,
in the air, explosions.

And then there’s also
a GPS antenna that can tell you

if the ground
is moving or not.

So to give you an example of the – of
the importance of having networks out

there, I’m going to show you Newberry,
which is this volcano in central Oregon.

It’s a really fascinating volcanic
system that Julie Donnelly-Nolan,

a geologist here,
has unraveled a lot of

the volcanic history there
over the last several decades.

And this is a volcano that we initially
thought was actually pretty dead.

This is a map that
shows one seismic station.

It was operated by the Pacific Northwest
Seismic Network, which is our partner

in all of this. It’s operated out
of the University of Washington.

So there was just this one triangle
out there from 1982, I think, to 2011.

And these yellow dots
are the 10 earthquakes

that were located out
there during this entire time.

In 2011, we installed an
eight-station seismic GPS network.

You saw one of those in the
picture a couples of slides ago.

And just in the two years after that
installation, this is what we saw.

So not, like, thousands of
earthquakes, but getting close to

hundreds of earthquakes.
And we’ve learned that Newberry

is actually one of the
more seismically active systems

that we deal with
in the Cascades.

And we had no clue about this before
we put this network out there.

This is sort of an extreme example.
Newberry turns out to be a place that

absorbs seismic energy, and there’s all
kinds of reasons for why that might be.

But this is just illustrating the importance
of having stations out for a long time.

The last part of our sort of core
function of area – core function of

focus is community preparedness.
And this really stems from one event –

at least in the USGS,
it does – as an important –

a strategic pillar
of importance.

And this one event was an eruption
in 1985 in Armero, Colombia.

And that eruption
was known about.

There had actually been unrest that
had been building for several months.

And there were scientists
out there that were tracking it.

When the eruption started, they saw it.
And they started seeing some signals

of a mudflow starting to develop,
which in volcano world, we call a lahar.

That’s an Indonesian
word for mudflows,

and Indonesia gets
lots and lots of mudflows.

In this case, what generated
the lahar was some hot rocks

landing on top of an ice cap.
And the ice cap – [inaudible]

is ice cloud, and the hot rocks melted
some of that snow and ice and

started this mudflow,
or this lahar, going down a river.

Two hours later, it got to
the town of Armero,

which used to have a lot of houses
in this picture, but now it doesn’t.

And 20,000 people were killed.
Over 20,000 people were killed.

And the reason why
they were killed boils down to,

there was a disconnect
between the scientific

operation where people knew about
this and the folks on the ground.

There’s a whole bunch of reasons
for how that disconnect happened.

They don’t all – or very many,
or any, really, have to do

with the scientists themselves.
It was just this communication chain

didn’t exist for a wide variety of reasons.
And so that really is the underlying

reason why there’s a lot of emphasis
now on community preparedness.

Lesson learned.
If folks don’t understand the hazard,

and aren’t ready to hear you tell them
about it when there’s something

happening, then a disaster could happen.
So in Washington and Oregon, we’ve

been working fairly hard on facilitating
the development of response plans –

or actually, these are coordination plans
for all of the very high-threat volcanoes.

These coordination plans are actually
the domain of the state emergency

operations, or emergency
management, divisions.

And are also better served if
they’re really led by stakeholders

from counties and cities
and tribes and whatnot.

So our role is really
to facilitate and nudge

things along and
be subject matter experts.

And it’s been really gratifying
to see that this work has led to

officially sanctified plans on
just about every one of the volcanoes.

But it’s taken an
awful lot of effort on the

part of many stakeholders
to get these plans to pass.

Something that we’ve been doing
internally in the USGS Volcano

Science Center is to clean up
our alert level language.

It used to be each observatory
kind of came up with its own way

of communicating alert levels.
At CVO, when I arrived in 2003,

we had a type – let me think – type 1,
type 2, type 3 – something like that.

In Alaska, it was the color code –
green, yellow, orange, red.

Down here in Long Valley,
there were a couple of different

colors in addition to all those.
And Hawaii had its own system.

And we were getting feedback that
that was difficult to understand.

There was sort of confusion that
people were having about

these different messages.
So we got our act together and came up

with this kind of compromise which,
on the left-hand side, this is for the

ground and matches exactly the
National Weather Service language.

That was feedback we got
from stakeholders that they were

used to the National Weather Service.
Of course, the National Weather Service

is now contemplating changing
the normal, advisory, watch, warning,

which is – I’m actually
glad of that.

Because watch and
warning always confused me.

I just have to think about,
ooh, which one’s which?

And then alert level is green,
yellow, orange, red for aviation.

Something else we’ve
been doing is working on

producing products that are
based on our volcano hazard maps.

And we have hazard
maps for all the volcanoes.

But they’re a little bit technical
and a little bit hard to understand

when you first look at them.
You can – you can get it if

you look at them for a while.
But what we decided to do is work

with stakeholders again to
come up with these, what we call

simplified hazard maps, which break
hazards down into this near-field area,

where you really don’t want to be
when a volcano is waking up or active.

Because this is a place where things
could get to you within 30 minutes,

and there’s no warning and things like
that. And then, these more distal areas,

which are largely places that are subject
to these mudflows, or these lahars.

And we’ve rolled that
out for all of the volcanoes.

And then finally, folks in our office –
Carolyn Driedger, most notably –

have put together a media plan
for us scientists with guides for

preparing interviews, with tips for
things to say and things not to say

in interviews, and also just kind of
practice – how you practice.

And this kind of thing
is important because

you never know when
this is going to happen.

And this is our conference room.
And when Mount St. Helens woke up

in 2004, all of the sudden,
our conference room became

a place where we were having
press conferences one, sometimes

two times a day that
were nationally televised.

And so there were a couple of us
that were just sort of taking turns

as subject matter experts
in front of the microphones.

And it’s really helpful to have
something there to tell you,

don’t say that word that you’re
thinking about saying. [laughter]

And more recently, we’ve had
some pretty entertaining examples

of the media sort of taking off on things.
And actually, it’s not media.

It’s social media taking off on things.
So this is a plot that shows all the

earthquakes that have been located
at Mount St. Helens from 1987,

down there on
the left-hand side, to 2017.

And it shows them by depth.
So zero is sea level.

Negative 2 is above ground,
or – sorry, above sea level.

And this goes down in
depth to about 10 kilometers.

So this shows all the earthquakes.
Here’s the 2004-2008 eruption.

And then we’ve been in this period
of sort of – of quiet since then.

And things have evolved in terms of
where earthquakes are occurring.

And every once in a while, you get
a little uptick, or a little swarm.

We started calling them upticks
because swarms – nobody really

knows what that means.
Is it a swarm of bees?

Uptick seems to
get people’s attention.

And we don’t issue any formal
statements, but we have a Facebook

account. There’s a USGS
Volcanoes Facebook account.

And we feel like – all this
data is available in real time,

and so it’s important for us to be
providing interpretations for folks.

So we put a little – a paragraph
out there that said, you know,

there’s been an uptick in earthquakes,
and this is part of a process that we

think is leading to the next
eruption at Mount St. Helens,

which is years to
decades down the road.

And we’ve seen these things
before, and things like that.

And before we knew it, it was on
CNN Headline News, right there below

articles about President Obama and
also this awful fire in British Columbia.

And that just – that’s –
that just happens.

And then the local media showed
up afterwards wondering, well,

what the heck is this all about?
Did we miss a story?

And it’s, like, no, there’s no story.
This is just an uptick.

So it’s important to
have an understanding

of how to – how to do
media interviews.

The last thing on community
preparedness is that we are realizing

that any future eruption that’s
going to happen anywhere

in the lower 48 is going to
be handled through what’s known as

the Incident
Command System.

And that’s something that was
developed in California to handle

wildfires and has since spread
like wildfire to all 50 states

to mainly handle wildfires,
but also to handle other

large disasters like hurricanes.
All of the hurricanes that happened

last year were dealt with with incident
management teams – level ones.

And it’s pretty clear that’s how the
next crisis – volcanic crisis is going

to be handled. And so we are educating
ourselves on what this thing is.

What is the Incident Command System?
And how does these weird scientists

tap into it – the scientists who want
to go to the volcano when the

whole incident is geared towards
keeping people from doing that?

So that’s just an ongoing process
that we’re working on.

So, in the last part of this talk,
I thought I’d walk you through

a couple of tangible examples of
how all this stuff interacts and

how all this – all this works.
And when I did this talk at noon,

I ran long, and I had to
skip through a section.

And I was told,
don’t skip through that section.

But now I’ve run even longer, so I’m
going to skip through this first section.

I’m going to focus
on Mount Rainier.

There we go.

So Mount Rainier – I mentioned this
before – is a place that has lahars.

Lahars are these – are these
volcanic mudflows.

And here is the town of Orting,
which is about 40 or 50 miles away

from Mount Rainier
by stream.

And this whole flat plain here is covered
in deposits from a very large lahar that

come off of Mount Rainier about 1501,
is when geologists think it came through.

And people, when they’re excavating
foundations to build new houses,

are unearthing these large trees that
were brought down by that lahar.

And were that to happen today,
it would be a bad thing.

Just to give you a flavor for what
lahars look like, this is a video that was

taken at Mount Rainier back in 2015.
This is a very small lahar.

And actually, at Mount Rainier, we’re
splitting a hair in terms of terminology.

Because people in the Mount Rainier
area have gotten – have heard the

word “lahar” – “large lahar” a lot,
when small lahars happen,

they get freaked out
when they hear the word “lahar.”

And so we started calling these
small things “debris flows.”

And so here is a video of a debris
flow that was caught by a tourist.

- [video] This is crazy.

- And I should say, this is very much like
the kinds of mudflows that happened

here in California just a couple …
- [video] I’m scared.

- … couple of months ago
in the wildfire areas.

- [video] Get back.
I’m scared.

[video] This is all dry. There hasn’t
been water down here. Look at all this.

[video] The water is, like, black.

- It’s both. We call it mud, but,
you know, there’s a lot of water.

It just has got a lot less
water than [inaudible].

It has a lot of sediment in it.
And that sediment gives it …

- [video] The ground is shaking.
- … the consistency of cement.

Cement can carry big objects like that
huge tree there and also all these rocks.

And that’s one of the things that
makes debris flows, lahars, mudflows,

really destructive is that they have …
- [video] Raaa!

Look at that tree.
Look how tall that is.

- Okay. [video stops] They have – they have
these battering rams in them.

And one of the misconceptions
is that a lahar comes through,

and it’s like a flood.
And floods, you know, come up,

and they do damage
in terms of soaking stuff –

your sofa or your walls
and things like that.

But the flood water goes away.
Your house stays around, usually.

But with lahars,
that doesn’t happen.

The house will go away
if a lahar – a lahar is there.

And that’s, you know, clearly what
happened at Armero back in 2015.

So this hazard has been
known about for a while.

was written for Mount Rainier.

Actually, the first
modern-day volcano

hazard assessment in the
lower 48 was written back then.

And – by, actually, a USGS
geologist named Rocky Crandell.

And also came up with some
hazard maps and things like that.

We now have a more refined
understanding of the lahar hazard.

This is a map that shows three of
the largest ones that have come

off of Mount Rainier –
the Osceola from 5,600 years ago,

the National from about 2,000 years, and
the Electron from about 500 years ago.

So nine of these are known to
have occurred in the last 5,600 years.

Eight of them were
associated with eruptions.

So that’s the good news.
It means the most likely scenario

is the volcano erupts,
and then you get the large lahar.

You don’t have to sort of
worry about it too much.

But there is one exception.
There is one lahar –

the Electron mudflow –
the most recent one – 1501

that does not appear to be
associated with any eruption,

at least anything that left a –
there’s no geologic record of it.

It’s possible there could have been
some sort of steam explosion

that there would be no record of,
but it’s by far not the most likely

scenario, but it does leave open
the possibility for something

that’s called the unheralded lahar –
the bump in the night,

something that could
happen spontaneously.

There are about 90,000 folks that live
in lahar hazard zones of Mount Rainier.

And the estimate is,
that if one of these spontaneous

lahars were to let loose,
there’s about 60 minutes

from when it starts here to when it
would reach the town of Orting.

And Orting – it’s not 90,000 people
in Orting, but there’s several

tens of thousands of folks there.
So in terms of research, here’s a topic.

How stable is the edifice
of Mount Rainier?

A couple of USGS geologists
dug into that question back

about 15 years ago or so now.
And Carol Finn from the Denver area

and Mark Reid from here,
as well as Tom Sisson and Jim Vallance

and some other folks that mapped out
the geology of the edifice established

that there’s this part of the western
flank of Mount Rainier that’s composed

of fairly altered rock,
and it’s also very steep.

And Mark Reid has done some
modeling and shown that this is the

place that is the most unstable part –
potentially unstable part

of Mount Rainier.
These other sides are plenty steep,

but they don’t have
this altered rock problem.

There’s other places that are altered,
but they aren’t as – aren’t quite as steep.

So this is really the place where
this kind of thing could happen,

that happened at the
Electron mudflow in 1501.

And here’s a picture of
what it looks like in time.

So there’s researchers at CVO
who have taken that red area

and have put it into a model that’s just
been developed that allows one to start –

a mass of rock and ice,
start it moving and see

how far it goes
and how fast it goes.

And I’m going to show you
some simulations from that.

So here is that patch –
the red patch that I showed you

before on the west
flank of Mount Rainier.

And the volume in there
is about 260 million cubic meters,

which is a large lahar.
That’s a pretty large one.

Not as – not the largest
that Mount Rainier’s ever done,

but that would certainly
get people’s attention.

And now I’m going to
show you their results.

This is Dick Iverson and
David George from our office.

And so this is two minutes
after the inception.

So the inception
started up here.

And here it is moving this
way and moving this way.

The important thing that their
simulation has showed is that this

lahar has split into two drainages.
It’s going this way, and it’s going

this way. And you’ll see the
importance of that in the next slides.

So here’s one going down here.
And this is the Nisqually entrance.

That’s the place where
people go into the park.

That’s the closest place where
there are year-round residences.

There are some hotels
there and things like that.

And then there’s also this town of
Ashford. So that’s at 10 minutes.

Twenty minutes, it’s reached
the low-lying areas of Ashford.

And then, keep paging it forward,
there’s another town over here in

about 40 minutes. And then,
at about 70 minutes, it gets to Orting.

So this will get two different
drainages going, two different

sets of communities.
And it’s a – like I said before,

it’s not a likely scenario for how we
would get a lahar, but it’s possible.

And so there are some questions about,
what do you do about that?

So here’s when the
monitoring part comes in.

In 1998, USGS worked with
Pierce County, which is the county

that has jurisdiction over much of this
western flank area, to install a system

of five instruments on these
two drainages that – there’s a

couple trip wires there
that are put at strategic levels.

And the basic idea is that, if there’s a
lahar coming through that’s large enough

to reach Orting, it’ll take out the
trip wires, and they make a lot of noise,

and that will
trigger an alarm.

And so that alarm system has
been running for 20 years.

There’s never been an alarm.
Which is a good thing.

And – but it’s, at this point, getting old.
And it’s a fairly – a fairly crude system.

Now, what these – what these are
looking for – that video that I showed

you before, this is a seismic record from
that debris flow – that little, dinky lahar.

It lasted for a couple of hours.
That was recorded by a station

that was up on the – on a ridge
right over that river drainage.

Other stations that were just a little
further away didn’t see that signal at all.

And the physical reason for
that is that it’s a surface flow.

So a lot of the seismic energy that’s
being created is staying in the surface.

It’s not going into the rocks.
It’s not going out to

where our seismometers are.
And so one of the things you need to do

in order to be able to catch these things
is you have to put seismometers out

that are close to the drainages, and you
have to have more than just that one.

And so that has
started informing our strategy

for the next iteration
on this system.

And all these orange dots are sort of –
are aspirational at this point.

We’re again working with Pierce
County to develop this system.

It’s not a trivial
prospect at all.

And we’re also expanding it
down to this – to this other drainage

where we’ve learned things can
get to populated areas a lot quicker

than the 45 to 50 to 60 minutes
that we were thinking for Orting.

So that’s the
monitoring piece.

Then there’s the
community preparedness part.

So here’s the message the
scientists have figured out.

Lahars can happen at Mount Rainier,
have happened in the past,

have reached populated areas.
What do people do about it?

And that’s a
really important part.

So we’ve been doing a lot of things
with the media, with working with

educator guides, with taking folks
out on trips, going to job fairs,

going to emergency preparedness fairs,
working on these coordination plans,

doing tabletop exercises, and working
on policy and things like that.

One of the outgrowths of that is
this really cool drill that the town

of Orting has been doing
for at least the last decade.

It’s a – it’s a drill on a specific
day. I forget what the day is.

Sometime in May.

And the target is that the kids
need to get out of their schools

and to high ground
within 45 minutes.

That’s the sort of time window where
that system that’s in place now the

USGS put in will give about 45 minutes
of warning for people to get out.

So that’s the bar.
Get everybody out in 45 minutes.

This is a picture that was taken
from a drill just this last spring.

And that’s their goal is to –
is to get out in 45 minutes.

In 2017 – this was the first time
that all the schools participated,

from kindergarten on up to 12th grade.
So about 2,000 kids.

And they made it. That was –
it was a successful exercise.

And the elementary schools
are one of the fastest kids

because they skipped all the way.

And a lot of the high schoolers who
have done these drills a number of times

now were ushers, or were
there cheering the little kids on.

And it became kind of
this cool community event.

And so it’s turning a potentially scary
message into kind of a fun thing.

And also having people be empowered.
And that’s, I think, one of the things

people have learned everywhere
around the world is that

you can’t just
give bad news.

You also have to say, here’s what you
can do help yourself and help others.

So – and this is also
good preparation for this

community for other disasters –
not just lahars.

So all this leaves us with some
hard questions, which we’re

going to be working through
for the next bunch of years.

One is, how much should society worry
about large lahars at Mount Rainier?

It’s 1 in 500, 1 in 1,000 years,
if you sort of go by averages.

And that’s kind of a long time to
be doing these evacuation drills.

So there’s sort of balance to be struck
in our messaging between making sure

people are aware of the hazard while
not scaring the pants off of them.

And also sort of having them have a
perspective for, how do you – where do

you put this in the range of all the things
there are out there to worry about?

With this new system that we’re
putting in, we’re going to have

capabilities to provide warning
quicker than we do right now.

But they’re not going to be as precise.
We won’t necessarily know –

we’ll know there’s
going to be a big bump.

We’ll know there’s going to be a big, you
know, landslide or something like that.

But we don’t – we aren’t going to
know how big the thing is

until probably 10, 15 minutes
after it’s happened.

And so the bigness is important because
that tells you how far it’s going to go.

And so what do we do with that
first notice, when we see this big noise,

but we don’t know what’s
going to happen just yet?

Do we tell people about it?
If so, what do we say?

And is this sort of
like a ready, get set, go?

Is this like a tsunami
advisory, watch, warning,

which is what the NOAA
tsunami warning centers do?

And this is where we really need to
be working with emergency managers

because they’re the ones that the
messaging really, really matters.

And then also, who sends out the alert?
Do we do it?

Do the counties do it?
Do the state do it?

Does the National Weather Service
do it? Does somebody else do it?

All that stuff has to
get worked out,

and it has to get worked
out well ahead of time.

And then finally, these large lahars
can reach communities that are

close to Mount Rainier
that have year-round residents.

They’re not big communities,
but I think we’ve all learned

that there’s no such thing
as acceptable loss of life.

So with 10 minutes, we’re not
going to know what we’re dealing with

when we see the
big bump in 10 minutes.

We’ll just know that
it’s sort of going there.

So can we design a system that
gives robust alerts to those folks

and gives them at least a couple
minutes to get to high ground?

And all this is being done
with keeping this example in mind

of Armero and the
importance of doing this.

So that’s CVO.

And back to these happy people.

And this final picture is just
a little defensiveness that, yes,

this is from Mount St. Helens 2005.
And, yes, low-probability,

high-consequence events can happen
in the Cascades and will happen again.

Thank you.


- Thank you, Seth.
We have time for some questions.

There are two microphones
set up if anyone wants to

go up and
ask a question.


- Hi.
- Yeah.

- So I’m – this is a strange position
to take, and it could apply to everybody

here in the Bay Area, but, you know,
there’s bad places to live.

- Mm-hmm.
- And we’re trying to do

all this mitigation to, like,
protect people from living there.

But they decide to live there anyway.
- Mm-hmm.

- How far do you go with that?
- Yeah.

- I mean, I understand
there’s a gray scale, and there’s a,

you know, limit to everything.
And, heck, we probably shouldn’t be

living here in the Bay Area because
we’re all going to get nailed by

an earthquake one of these days.
- Right.

- But how do you balance
that in a practical way?

- Yeah.
- Because you’ve got all these

limited resources and
competing interests and – anyway.

- Yeah.
- It sounds like a really hard problem.

- Yeah, it is a hard problem.
And there’s a couple of avenues

to go sort of to talk about that.
I guess, you know, the thing

I think about because, you know,
the earthquake – the big one is

the one that would
be really horrible.

And I think about that in terms of, why
am I living in Vancouver, Washington?

And the answer is,
it’s a great place to live,

and this is one of
the things that can happen.

And just because it happens
doesn’t mean that I’m going to die.

In fact, it doesn’t mean that
most people are going to die.

Probably 1 or 2% of the people,
and that’s going to be horrible.

But the vast majority of folks in the
Pacific Northwest are going to survive.

And then, you got to
prepare yourself for surviving.

Because then you’re going to be dealing
with weeks or months of not having

food, not having water, not have
garbage disposal – or, garbage service.

And so there’s a positive
message that you can do stuff

to get yourself ready to survive.
In the case of Orting, there is a potential

circular argument that could be made
that, in putting this system out,

we have helped people feel more
comfortable about living in a place

that’s hazardous. And, in some ways,
we’re making the problem worse.

There’s no good
evidence to support that.

And, you know, either way –
it’s not something that anybody’s

really looked at.
And my personal feeling is that

the way – the rate at which people are
spreading out, that’s – like, if it’s –

if it’s a factor, its not factoring into
why Orting is exploding in population.

It’s exploding because
it’s a cheap place to live

in the Puget Sound area,
and it’s still pretty close to Tacoma.

And there’s another way of looking at it,
which is, there was this awful landslide

in Washington in 2014 –
the Oso landslide that killed 43 people.

And there’s all kinds of recriminations
back and forth about whether or not

people knew that that was
a slide-prone area, whether the

people knew that was going to happen,
and could there have been any kind of

warning that that was going to happen.
In that case, really tough.

You know, people right there, and you
can’t monitor the entire world the way

that slope would have needed to be
monitored to be able to give warning.

So, in this case, with Mount Rainier,
there is a known hazard.

It’s a scientifically plausible scenario
that that part of the volcano could fail.

And so I think that
puts it on us to try to

develop a system to try to
give people some warning.

And if, in the end,
we’re not successful,

at least the important thing
is that we tried our best,

and we’ve done our best to give
people information that they need.

And, you know, for the folks that are,
like, 10 minutes away, 20 minutes away,

they’ve been there without a system.
And so I sort of look at as informing

the folks who are there to give them –
give them some sort of power.

So, you know, it’s – long answer,
but the short answer is, you’re right.

It’s a really tough set of questions.
And that’s where scientists –

we can provide information, and we can
develop systems to help mitigate things,

but we’re not social scientists.
And we’re not sociologists and –

you know, those are the folks that –
and philosophers – those are

the folks you really need
in the mix to be grappling

with those really
hard questions.

And, you know, we have opinions
as scientists, but who are we?


- So in the case of the – oh, I don’t
know if this is working or not.

Yeah, there it is.
In the case of the lahar without

the eruption, so what’s
the mechanism for that?

Do the rocks get really hard – or, I mean,
really hot and melt the snow and ice?

Or do they just start falling off?
What is it that happens in that scenario –

at least what you think might happen?
- Well, the scenario that was modeled

is that it’s an instant collapse.
So that’s kind of like what happened

at Mount St. Helens in 1980.
That was a large landslide.

That obviously was preceded,
in the case of St. Helens,

by magma coming into the volcano
and making the whole thing unstable.

But it was really gravity that
caused that failure in the end.

So, at Mount Rainier, there’s a –
there’s a physical set of reasons

to believe that it could just
happen because of gravity.

There doesn’t have to be anything
additional going on at the volcano

to cause that to happen.
Now, it’s more likely if there is

something happening at the volcano.
That’s been our experience around

the world with these large lahars
is that they almost always happen

in context with a steam explosion or
some intrusion coming into the volcano.

And it’s certainly possible that
that could have been going on

at Mount Rainier in 1501 when
the Electron mudflow went off.

But it’s also plausible that it
could have just gone off on it own.

And we’re still looking at a situation
where there’s gravitationally unstable

slope that’s made of pretty weak rock.
And so it could just spontaneously go.

- So that big piece you
were showing in red …

- Yeah.
- It might just fall off,

is what you’re saying.
- That’s the possibility. Yeah.

- So why would all the ice and snow
melt if it’s just rock falling off?

- So there’s a turbulence
involved in the mixing,

and there is some
hotter rock that’s inside.

And there’s also snow that can get
mixed into it and incorporated into it.

But it’s also true that we
don’t know that it would liquefy.

So the scenario that I showed assumes
that everything – that it’s a wet flow,

that everything liquified – that the ice
and the snow and the altered rock

in there did eventually mix up
and create a liquified concrete-like –

or, cement-like flow. But it’s
possible that that wouldn’t happen.

It’s possible there would just be a
big noise, and it would just go flump.

And then there wouldn’t be a lahar.
And that’s part of the difficulty in our

using the initial signal as the thing that
says, okay, there’s a lahar coming.

Get out of town.
Because you have to wait for a while

to see if there are instruments
downstream that start picking up things.

And it’s possible that it might not.
So, you know, the real problem

with low-probability, high-consequence
events is that there haven’t been

that many low-probability events,
by definition, almost.

And so we don’t know a lot about
how they start and what they look like.

And some of these questions that you’re
asking about, like, will the ice liquify?

Not – can’t 100%
guarantee that it would.

- Thank you.

- Question. Would you go back to the
map where you showed the simulation of

the lahar coming down onto the town?
I’d like to say, thank you for your work

at the USGS, and I’m very convinced
of our – of the value as a taxpayer.

- Oh, good.
- So mission accomplished there.


Back one more. At the – back one more.
A the very low right, you mentioned

that there were a couple of hotels there.
- Uh-huh.

- It’s the entrance to the park.
- Yeah.

- I’m going to ask a couple
of pointed questions.

- Okay.

- Has the – has the – have the
insurance costs gone up for those hotels?

Have the land values
in that area been suppressed?

Are the real estate agents and the
chamber of commerce behind that?

And finally, has your work
resulted in a pushback –

or, I’ll say a denial
of geology science?

- Hm.
- Could you talk a little bit about that?

- Yeah. I’ll take those point by point.

Yeah, no, great questions.

So the first way to answer that is that
lahar hazard maps – or hazard maps –

volcano hazard maps were made up
for Mount Rainier and all the other

volcanoes in the Cascades –
not made up –

they were published
in the 1990s.

And those had been used by
land use zoning – to create zoning laws.

So they factor into
things like flood plains.

And one of the things that we’ve
been told by county managers and

things like that is that, when we
upgrade our hazard maps, they want to

be involved in the loop right away
because these lines matter quite a lot.

But the lines are there,
and they are already mattering.

So in terms of the folks here,
you know, so the hotels and

things like that, they hopefully should
know already that they’re in a zone.

What’s different now is that
this simulation is showing that

this unheralded lahar
situation can get to them fast.

And you raise a really excellent point
which is that we have to think about

how we’re going to talk
with these folks about that.

And that’s where messaging comes in,
and that’s where we need to work

with our county partners
to sort of strategize on that.

And we don’t want to get into
a situation where people feel like

you’re holding back on them.
So we’re not holding back on this,

but we need to think fairly carefully
about what we’re going to say with

this and how people might receive it,
and then, what are we doing about it?

Yeah, good questions.

Oh, I’m sorry.
Over here.

- When I read about the volcanic
events throughout the world,

such as in Indonesia or in Italy
and South America and places,

usually the biggest effect has been
explosive effects – like, the ash was

the most serious, and the
lava [inaudible] in Hawaii,

but that’s not really that serious
to most people. It’s slow.

But you haven’t talked about
that effect in the Cascades.

Is that a
negligible probability?

That’s why lahars are
so much more discussed?

And any possible
major explosion of ash?

- Yeah.
So ash hazards are a real issue.

And I did mention them
when talking about Glacier Peak.

And Mount St. Helens – that was a big
deal was the ash story downwind.

So the hazards are – the lahar hazards
and the ash hazards, those are both the

longest-traveled impacts of an eruption.
But they have different types of impacts.

The ash goes up in the air.
It’s a bad deal if airplanes

get caught in that, so there’s
all kinds of short-term things.

The Federal Aviation Administration
has told us that they want word of

an ash-producing explosion
within five minutes of it happening

anywhere in the United States,
which is – which is a high bar.

But that’s – they want time
for airplanes to get out of the way.

And also, there’s the downwind
impact – Mount St. Helens,

Yakima, the day turned to night.
They got, gosh, like, a foot of the stuff.

And how do you get rid of it?
And that was the story for weeks

afterwards is, how do you get rid of it,
and what is it doing to my crops,

and what is it doing to my animals,
and how do we breathe it?

So that – all those are problems.
The lahar problem is sort of –

is an instant problem in the sense
that it can get to places in a hurry

and cause kind of totaling type
of damage if you’re in the way.

But then also, you have this much
longer-term issue of, now you altered

the amount of sediment that’s
in this drainage system by a lot.

You’ve put in, in this case, 250 million
cubic meters of sediment into this

whole drainage, and that all has to make
its way down to the ocean, basically.

And that can take decades.
And while it’s doing that, it changes

the drainage in a way so that
the carrying capacity is a lot lower.

Basically you’ve raised the bed of
the stream by quite a bit – or the river.

And it makes it a lot easier to flood.
And then the river starts snaking

around and roads – its banks,
and people who are living on

the sides of it get all flooded out.
And it also makes a problem for fish.

All that’s been playing out
at Mount St. Helens.

There’s a river valley called the
Toutle River, and a lot of the debris

avalanche in the lahar, as they came off
of the volcano that day, went into

the north fork of
the Toutle River.

And there’s still
so much sediment in there.

There’s no fish [inaudible] are going to
be going up that stream anytime soon.

And it’s caused such a problem
with flooding downstream that the

Army Corps of Engineers has built this
large structure to catch a lot of that

sediment to keep it –
so you’re right that ash is an issue.

And I didn’t really focus on that
that much because this lahar issue

is one that’s sort of illustrative of all
the things that we do in the CVO.

But [inaudible] …
- You didn’t quite answer my question.

What’s the probability of the explosion
where the ash problem is a problem

in the Cascades or Mount Rainier?
My daughter happens to live 50 miles

west of Mount Rainier,
and I’m worried about whether she

can expect an explosion someday.
- Oh, okay. Yeah.

So for Mount Rainier specifically, the
short answer is, it’s not likely to explode.

It has small eruptions.
And there could be a little bit of ash

if the wind’s blowing
the right ways at the right time.

And it’s sort of the
same thing as Glacier Peak.

So that map I showed you is what
we’re aiming at for – in terms of

how to establish the probability thing
is looking at the most typical eruption,

looking at wind fields,
and kind of forecasting that out.

But the most likely scenario
is Mount St. Helens, frankly.

That’s the one that will give you the ash.
- Thank you.

- Yes?
- If you had a very large volcanic event

up there – considerably larger than
Mount St. Helens, what would

the impacts be down here?
Apart from ashfall, it looks to me

like you’d have considerable secondary
social and economic impacts – I mean,

like disruption of electrical grid,
ports closed, and just strain

on responders from here as being
the next-closest place of assistance

and so on and so forth.
What would have to happen

before the secondary impacts were
felt significantly in California?

- In terms of [inaudible] …
- Well, what I’m saying is,

we know from the Cascadia earthquake
scenarios that, even if we don’t feel

a vibration, the social and economic
impacts down here are going to be

very, very, very substantial.
- Mm-hmm.

- You lose electrical grid up there …
- Right.

- … what’s going to
happen to power down here?

- Right.
- But, I mean, what’s the scenario

with a large volcanic event?
And how large would it have to

be before we would see those
sorts of effects in California?

- I couldn’t give you
a number for how large.

I mean, I think Mount St. Helens
had impacts up and down the coast

because of disruptions like the –
you know, the Columbia River –

the Port of Portland was
inaccessible for a week and a half

because the Columbia River was
non-navigable because [inaudible] …

- Right. But, I mean, if you had
a port that went out for

six months or something.
- Yeah.

- If Tacoma were …
- Right. But then, like you mentioned …

- Then that traffic is going to
have to come through here or …

- Right. And then the power grid –
you mentioned that.

I mean, that would
be a problem.

In a really big eruption, that would
be a fairly significant problem.

There would be mutual aid,
for sure, that we might be needing.

- Right, yeah.
- But I think – you know, in terms of,

like, ash coming down here …
- No, that’s not …

- You know, if it was a large enough
eruption, and the winds were blowing

the right direction, I’m pretty sure
that some of the Mazama eruption,

a little dusting came down here. It
wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case.

But, yeah, it’s a little difficult to forecast
that kind of thing and to say, you know,

how much bigger –
what it would be like.

You know, like the Glacier Peak
eruption, which was, say,

call it four or five times
the size of Mount St. Helens,

that’s in a place where there’s
really not many people

and not much infrastructure.
So it would have been a big deal east,

but there wouldn’t necessarily
have been the need for mutual aid

like there would be at Mount Rainier.
- We have a question right here.

- I was going to say, it’s a good time
to think about buying electric vehicles

because you wouldn’t have
that ash clogging your [inaudible].

- Can you use the mic? Yeah.

- Can everybody hear me?
- Well, it’s for folks online.

- Okay.
- You’re on.

- Okay, recently, there was the
Gotthard Tunnel – they put the –

the Gotthard Tunnel – oh, I’m sorry.
In Switzerland, right?

They’ve been tunneling through there.
I was thinking a good idea for

escaping this kind of thing because

happens in the middle of the night.
And if it’s raining,

that’ll complicate things further.
- Mm-hmm. Yep.

- Yeah. Electronic train
underground seems to me as a …

- Yeah.

- If you don’t – if you want
to stay in that hazardous area.

- There’s other reasons for having
electronic trains underground

besides ash, but yeah.
- Yeah, absolutely. [laughter]

- Yeah.
- All right. That was more

of a statement than a question.
- Yep.

- You had Crater Lake on your list.
I guess I naively assumed that

Mount Mazama had done its thing and
now we just have this beautiful lake.

Can you give us just a
brief status update on that area

since it was one
of your red zones?

- Yeah. So it’s there
because of that large eruption.

And there hasn’t really – there’s been a
few in the hundred years following that,

but there really hasn’t been anything
certainly for the last 6,000-plus years.

And that kind of is an illustration of
the scientific method, or the scientific

principle is, you come up with
a way of comparing volcanoes,

and then you have to apply it equally.
So if it erupted in the last 10,000 years,

then you get a point.
- Oh, okay.

- And so that’s – so if we wait
for 3,000 more years and Crater Lake

doesn’t erupt, then off it goes.
- [laughs]

- But, you know, we do have
a fairly sparse network there.

There’s four seismic stations, four GPS.
We see the occasional earthquake.

There’s not been
any hint of deformation.

So there’s not – yeah, there’s a little bit
of a gas – accumulation of gas at the

bottom of the lake that the Park Service
has found with a little submersible

robotic thing that they
sent down a couple years ago.

And so it’s, you know,
sort of interesting to think about,

well, where’s that coming from?
And it – you know, it’s probably not

dead, but it’s probably going
to take a long time for …

- Not much activity.
- Not much activity, yeah.

Scientists take a long time to answer
questions. Not much activity.


- Okay. Well, let’s all
thank Seth once again.


And I’ll just remind you again of our
next public lecture on March 22nd.

Thanks for coming.