Status of (mostly) WA Volcanoes: Report to Emergency Managers 2020-21

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Jon Major, scientist-in-charge of the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory, provides an overview of the major volcano hazards in the Cascades, the function and responsibilities of the Cascades Volcano Observatory, and a brief synopsis of what's been going on at Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Hood, and CVO’s plans in coming years. The talk was hosted by the Washington State Emergency Management Division as part of 2021 Volcano Awareness Month in Washington State activities and events.
 

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Date Taken:

Length: 00:22:13

Location Taken: Vancouver, WA, US

Video Credits

Video recorded by the Washington State Emergency Management Division
 

Transcript

>> Now, I'd like to introduce the new scientist in charge at the

USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory, Jon Major.

>> Thanks, Brian. Welcome, everybody.

In this brief talk this morning on the status of "mostly" Washington volcanoes,

and I'll tell you why it's "mostly" here shortly,

what I hope to do is just give you

a very quick overview of some of

the major volcano hazards that we worry about here in the Cascades,

tell you just a very little bit about

the Cascades Volcano Observatory and some of our functions and our responsibilities,

and then give a very brief synopsis of what's been going

on at Washington's volcanoes and what our plans are in coming years.

With that, as many of you know,

Washington is home to and bordered by several volcanoes.

These are very charismatic landforms that are geologically quite active.

This is a plot that shows

eruptive activity of one or another just over the past 4,000 years.

You can see that the volcanoes here in Washington,

everything from Mount Baker in the north down to Mount Hood, which is just across

the border in Oregon, have had a fair bit of activity over the past 4,000 years.

If we look at the Cascades as a whole,

when we average over about the last 12,000 years,

the Cascades typically will experience about two eruptions per century.

Now, this may not appear or sound like

it's very significant over a single human lifetime.

But when you start to think over generational time frames,

then that does become significant because it does mean that

society is going to have interactions with volcanic eruptions.

Here at the Cascades Volcano Observatory,

we can't prevent those interactions between volcanoes and society,

but hopefully, we can help you try to mitigate

the impacts of those interactions with society.

I'll just briefly tell you about some of the major hazards that we worry about.

They're generally what we'll call flow or fall type hazards.

The two biggies that we really worry about here in the Cascades are these.

We call them lahars or volcanic mudflows because they can travel many tens of miles

down valleys, and even communities that are far

removed from volcanoes can be affected by these processes.

Generally, the communities we're

particularly worried about that might be subject to these processes,

these large lahars, are generally going to be west of the Cascades.

In contrast, volcanic ashfall which we call tephra fall,

when a large eruption column rises into the atmosphere,

the wind will carry that material downwind.

Our downwind direction here is generally from

the west to the east so the communities that

are east of the Cascades are the communities

that are going to be generally subjected to these volcanic ashfalls.

These ashfalls can go tens to hundreds of miles or more downwind.

Communities that are not close to the volcanoes

can be severely affected by volcanic processes.

Another one that we've come to appreciate much more in the aftermath of the

Mount St. Helens 1980 eruption is all the sedimentation,

all the sediment that moves down river systems in the years to decades after eruptions,

and that can present really long-term challenges to society.

At the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory here,

down in Vancouver, Washington,

our mission is to provide volcano hazard assessments,

to detect unrest, to give timely warnings about volcanic activity,

and to work with folks like you, our stakeholders,

to ensure that your communities are volcano ready.

We have three basic core functions here within our observatory.

One is research where we do lots of research on eruptive histories,

we research the types of processes that pose hazards to societies,

we develop lots of hazard assessment tools,

various models that allow us to assess and try to predict and anticipate

what different types of processes might do under different types of scenarios.

Another core function here at

the Cascades Volcano Observatory is we monitor the volcanoes.

We have instrumentation that we put out on

the landscape and we'll talk about that a little bit more.

But this is a way for us,

it's like going to the doctor.

It's our way of detecting what's going on at a volcano.

A third function here at the observatory

is we call it community preparedness or outreach,

and we'll talk about that in a little bit more detail in a few slides.

With regard to volcano monitoring,

there are basically three major monitoring techniques that we use.

One of them is earthquakes.

As magma moves its way up through the earth,

it has to find a pathway to get to the surface.

As it finds that pathway,

it has to break rock.

As that rock breaks, it generates earthquakes.

One of the major tools we use in our monitoring arsenal are seismometers.

This allow us to detect earthquakes.

Depending upon the placement of the seismometers around a volcano,

this allows us to get

more precise locations of where these earthquakes are occurring and how large they are.

It'll tell us whether these earthquakes are related to magma movement,

whether they're related to fluid movement along the existing faults,

or whether they're even on the volcano at all.

Another form of monitoring we like to watch for is surface deformation.

As magma moves up into a volcano,

even at great depths,

it will begin to cause very small but detectable deflections of the ground surface.

We can monitor those through a variety of techniques.

GPS is one way we do it,

we can also do it by satellite technologies.

But those are the two biggies that we use to monitor.

But we also monitor for gases that are

released from magmas as they approached the surface,

and we have some other techniques that we'll talk about a little bit.

It's particularly as they relate to things that are happening on the surface,

and they relate to lahars, and we'll get to that shortly.

In the Cascades, the volcanoes that

we are responsible for monitoring extend from the Canadian border,

so Mount Baker up near the Canadian border in the north,

all the way down to Crater Lake,

down here to southern Oregon border.

This is our purview.

These are the volcanoes we're responsible to monitor.

This little diagram here just shows you

our current state of monitoring equipment that we have out on the landscape.

You can see that it ranges quite widely.

I mean, Mount St. Helens, for example,

you can see that it's got a lot of instrumentation on it.

If you recall that one diagram a few slides ago,

Mount St. Helens is one of the most frequently active volcanoes in the Cascade.

It's quite well monitored.

Glacier Peak, on the other hand,

has only one seismometer on it right now.

Yet Glacier Peak does pose a significant threat to

society because it has had some fairly large eruptions in the past.

One of the things we're trying to do and planning to do is start bringing up

our monitoring arsenal particularly on

these volcanoes that are under monitored with

respect to the threat that they pose to society.

Some plans we have coming up,

we'll go into little more detail shortly,

is with Mount Baker.

We are going to start scoping out some sites where we hope

to install some new instrumentation sites in the future,

we hope to start scoping out those sites this year.

We're also in the process of doing a next generation

lahar hazard assessment with some new hazard assessment tools that we've developed.

At Glacier Peak, we have plans right now to install four more seismometers and GPS sites.

We were hoping that we might be able to do that this year,

but it looks like it's going to be delayed until 2022.

Our permitting process is now underway with the Forest Service.

This is in a wilderness area so the permitting process takes a little bit of time.

At Mount Rainier, we added some new stations last year.

We call these lahar detection system stations.

This year, we are planning to hopefully

install nine more lahar detection stations at Mount Rainier.

We're in the process of working with

the National Park Service to finalize the permitting on that.

We have completed very recently,

a next generation lahar hazard assessment for lahars at Mount Rainier.

I'll give you a status of that in a second.

I'll talk about this handoff again shortly.

Then at Mount St. Helens,

we've got some plans to do some station upgrades,

and we've recently completed a hazard assessment

for what would be at risk and what could happen if Spirit Lake was to breach.

Let's just take a little tour of the Cascades and talk about each individual volcano.

Here at Mount Baker,

there's no unusual activity going on at Mount Baker.

I mean, sometimes, there's some steaming if the atmospheric conditions are right,

people down in Bellingham can actually see

some steam generally coming from the Sherman Crater.

But there's nothing unusual happening at Baker right now,

and there hasn't been for a while.

We did a tabletop eruption exercise at Mount Baker a few years ago,

and this is one way we work with stakeholders to try

to assess our readiness and your readiness and

communications to make sure that everything is working and

all the communication links are right and who does what and what's expected of whom.

These are tabletop exercises that we hope to

continue doing and hopefully over the next maybe year or two,

we hope to revisit some more tabletop exercises for some of these other volcanoes.

I mentioned that we have a new lahar hazard assessment that's underway,

using some of these new tools that we've developed over the past several years.

As I mentioned, in 2021, hopefully,

we're going to begin scoping out some sites that will be

suitable to allow us to expand our monitoring network at Baker.

At Glacier Peak, there's no unusual activity going on at Glacier Peak.

Just in February of 2020,

City of Darrington officials participated in a Binational Exchange

where a group of folks from Darrington traveled down to Colombia in

South America to learn more about lahars and lahar hazards and community education.

This was part of a Binational Exchange.

A couple of years prior to when the folks from Darrington traveled down to Colombia,

several Colombians came up to Washington,

and Darrington officials and some Washington officials hosted them.

Folks from Colombia got to hear about what are

the things that the emergency management folks like you are worrying

about at Glacier Peak and how you interact with us and how we interact with you.

These Binational Exchanges, this is one of a handful we've done.

These are really good ways of exchanging

information and communication and learning from each other in

places where volcano hazards have been some serious catastrophes.

It's a way of exchanging information and making some of

the stuff that seems really abstract a bit more visceral and a bit more real.

We're working with the US Forest Service as I said on permitting four new stations

in the wilderness area around Glacier Peak.

At Mount Rainier,

over the past couple of years,

earlier this year and last year we had some earthquake swarms.

These are pretty typical, nothing unusual.

These swarms consist of tens of locatable earthquakes.

They're fairly small magnitudes, generally less than about magnitude 2.5.

Not the stuff that even if you were standing on the ground surface pretty close by,

you'd be unlikely to feel this.

At Rainier, the depths have been fairly shallow, 0-2 kilometers.

As I mentioned, these are fairly common.

These volcanoes, while they may look quiet,

might look stately on the landscape,

they chatter all the time and so for

these volcanoes to undergo these swarms off and on is not unusual at all.

As I mentioned, we've completed now

a next-generation lahar hazard assessment particularly,

excuse me, for the Nisqually and the Puyallup River system drainages.

That's working its way through our USGS publication system,

and we're hoping that sometime pretty soon that work will actually be out on

the streets and we will certainly be presenting

that and then talking to you about that once that hits the street.

Last September, we installed

five new monitoring lahar detection stations at Mount Rainier.

Right now we're working with the Park to expand

that lahar detection system within the National Park.

We're awaiting some final public comments and permanent issuance.

We just learned the other day from the Park Service that

the public comment period is going to be opened from May 27th to June 25th.

Carolyn Driedger and Seth Moran from our office will

be actually giving a public meeting about this on June 9th.

The stations as I mentioned they include seismometers,

but we also include sensors that are called infrasound sensors.

These infrasound sensors, in combination with these seismometers,

allow us to provide more precise information about the location,

the timing, and so are the relative vigor and size of an event.

We'll not only know from these systems if and when an event occurs but hopefully,

we'll actually be able to get some sense of how large that event is,

which improves our warning capability for folks

downstream as we've soon improved early hazard warning.

Sometime in the next coming months right now,

Pierce County officials are the owners and

operators of the lahar detection system and the river system.

But with this new instrumentation,

we at the USGS are actually going to be taking over the ownership of

that system and that hand-off is going to occur sometime over the next few months.

We're in the process now of scheduling some workshops and meetings with

the Pierce County officials and

the South Sound 911 and emergency management folks so that we can work

out the standard operating procedures and the protocols and make

sure that our systems are actually communicating with folks in Pierce County.

But we'll be taking that over,

and so we've got some work coming up here in a few months

to do a little bit of exercise on those systems.

At Mount Adams, there is no unusual activity.

Adams is really quite quiet,

but still, we plan to put some instrumentation out on the landscape.

We've now sited where we want to put those instruments.

We began engaging with the Forest Service about obtaining the permits to do that.

We'll also be trying to engage with the Yakama Tribe in particular as they have

lands around there and have a fairly vested interest in what goes on at Mount Adams.

At Mount St. Helens,

this summer we plan to do some maintenance and station upgrades.

We're going to be installing a new gas monitoring station over on the east flank.

In addition to that,

every season typically in the fall,

when the first heavy rains come in,

we typically get these small debris flows that get triggered at Mount St. Helens.

They also get triggered at Mount Rainier and may get to other places.

These only travel a few kilometers,

but they're good test cases.

What we're going to do this coming fall is we're going to be

installing temporary seismic and infrasound networks around Mount St. Helens,

which will help us better characterize relationships between

the seismic signal that these debris flows

generate and the infrasound signal that they generate.

Which will then help us to calibrate the systems that we're putting out

at Rainier because it's the same type of

instrumentation and this is a good testbed and a way to calibrate things.

As I mentioned, we've recently completed a hazard assessment of what

possibly could happen downstream if Spirit Lake was to

breach and that report is now in progress.

At Mount Hood over in Oregon, last fall,

we installed three new stations on the flanks of Mount Hood.

They were combinations of GPS and seismometers.

This was a cooperative project with

the Forest Service and the Mount Hood National Forest.

Since we've put some of that instrumentation in,

we've detected a few earthquake swarms earlier this year at Mount Hood.

Again, these are common swarms at Mount Hood,

they lasted anywhere from tens of minutes to maybe a few hours.

Maximum magnitudes were less than three,

so pretty small things.

They were all pretty deep, 1-7 kilometers below sea level.

By putting in the GPS stations,

we were able to confirm that there was

no deformation that was associated with earthquake swarms.

That tells us that these aren't the result of magma moving in the system because

if magma was moving in the system we'd probably detect some surface deformation.

Instead, these are related to fluid movement along existing faults around the volcano.

Just out of curiosity,

we installed some temperature sensors in springs near

Government Camp just to see if there might be any change

in water temperatures associated with this earthquake swarm.

We also had a temporary deployment of infrasound sensors,

to try to calibrate against event occurrence and size and compare it with

seismic signals. And we had this

winter, we were actually detecting snow avalanches.

It's a way of us being able to calibrate size and

magnitude with the seismic signals that we also collect at the same time.

Sometime probably in 2022, 2023,

we're going to try to install

a new gas detection station up at Crater Rock up at Mount Hood.

One of the other things we do,

we have these volcano hazard response plans that have been

developed in cooperation with lots of you folks,

the Emergency Management Division and offices of emergency management.

But if you look at the dates on these,

they're a little stale some of them are getting on to be about 10 years old now.

We're proposing and one of the things we plan to

do is over the next couple of years is to try

to regenerate some of these volcano working groups and

meeting with you folks and trying to bring these documents up to date.

People change, there's lots of call-down numbers and

call-down names in these documents so we plan

to try to bring these things up to date and we'll certainly be

contacting you for assistance and communications on that.

Just a little more on our community preparedness and outreach,

we hold tabletop exercises,

we hold sessions like this with you folks.

We're very active on our social media,

we do lots of news,

we interact with lots of news media.

We've developed lots of hazard products that are out there

that we try to push out to you and at least make you aware of.

There's a bunch of links here at the bottom of this slide,

and these links will show up in my last slide.

But these are places where you can go and get

information about what's going on and perhaps

the one I'll bring to your attention

the most is this one called the Volcano Notification Service.

Because anytime there's any information release or

any activity that we feel is significant enough to put out any notification,

it'll be pushed out on that.

That's actually a service you can subscribe to fairly easily,

you can sign up for it,

and then you will get your notices automatically via

email so you wouldn't have to go searching for things,

that information will come to you.

Just in summary, I think we have a pretty good handle on

the hazards at each of the volcanoes and the Cascades.

CVO has now been in existence for 40 years,

we've got lots of information,

lots of depth, lots of knowledge about these volcanoes.

Fortunately, most of our volcanoes are remote,

so some of the processes that are restricted to areas

fairly close to the volcano are not going to put large populations at risk. However,

there are some volcano processes that do expose

large populations to hazards and those are going to be

these large mudflows that travel long distances down

river systems and the ashfall that's going to travel long distances downwind.

But, it's a double-edged sword because the remoteness of our volcanoes,

the media onslaught that obviously will ensue the next time one of our volcanoes awakens,

and potentially long durations of eruptions are going to

really severely challenge and task the eruption response,

therefore, good planning is needed.

That good planning relies on good communication and good interaction between us and you.

With that, I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Thank you, John.