Volcano Hazards

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Detailed Description

The United States has 169 active volcanoes. More than half of them could erupt explosively, sending ash up to 20,000 or 30,000 feet where commercial air traffic flies. USGS scientists are working to improve our understanding of volcano hazards to help protect communities and reduce the risks.

Video Sections:

  • Volcanoes: Monitoring Volcanoes
  • Volcanoes: National Volcano Early Warning System
  • Volcanoes: Science for Public Safety



Episode Number: 179

Date Taken:

Length: 00:06:30

Location Taken: Reston, VA, US



Charlie Mandeville, USGS Volcano Hazards Program
Associate Coordinator: We have 169 active

volcanoes in the U.S., about 88 of which could
be potentially explosive in their eruption


And because of that, even though they are
located in sometimes remote areas away from

population centers, they can have the ability
to send ash up to 20,000 and 30,000 feet where

commercial air traffic flies.

And the ash clouds from these volcanoes can
potentially disrupt air traffic over a significant

portion of the contiguous U.S. as well as
the northern hemisphere of the world.

David Applegate, USGS Associate Director for
Natural Hazards: It is in that moment of crisis

when the world turns to us; it's looking to
the USGS for information; It's looking to

the USGS to help them understand and react
to and respond to a disaster, that we have

to be there for them.

Our networks have to be up and running.

Our information has to be getting out in order
to make a difference.

Volcanoes: Monitoring Volcanoes

Charlie Mandeville: So there are a number
of consequences of a large explosive eruption

in the lower 48 or even in Alaska or the Commonwealth
of the Northern Mariana Islands.

And the long term effects from such an eruption
could be manifested for months to even years

after the eruption.

So it's essential then, that we know what
a volcano is capable of doing and it's really

crucial to be able to detect the unrest at
our volcanoes in the earliest stages so that

we can make effective actions that will protect
society and reduce the risk.

We have, in the USGS, 5 volcano observatories;
The Alaska Volcano Observatory, we have the

Cascades Volcano Observatory, we have the
Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, and we have

the California Volcano Observatory, and then
we have the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

The GAP analysis is essentially the difference
between what is currently on the volcano,

in a monitoring, ground-based instrument sense,
versus, what are the optimal number and type

of instruments that we would like to have
on the volcano given its past behavior and

what we know about it, what we know about
its past eruptions, what we know about the

incidents of explosive eruptions at this particular
volcano, the distribution of the products

from those eruptions, and its proximity to
population and infrastructure or air traffic.

Volcanoes: National Volcano Early Warning

David Applegate: We have plans for a National
Volcano Early Warning System.

This is to build on our existing monitoring
capabilities, not just monitoring, but also

assessment and research capabilities, all
of them leading towards the capability to

warn whenever there is an eruption in any
one of the 169 active volcanoes that we have

here in the U.S.

Charlie Mandeville: The National Volcano Early
Warning System is a new plan to augment and

modernize the monitoring networks that we
have on volcanoes.

And by monitoring networks, that includes
instrumentation in the form of seismometers,

video cameras, tilt meters, and ground deformation
sensors, namely GPS instruments, and it's

essential that we detect those early signs
of activity as early as possible, such that

we're not racing to catch up, but we're actually
seeing the first signs of unrest at a volcano.

That buys us time with which we can provide
warning to communities at risk and aviation

in the area.

Volcanoes: Science for Public Safety

David Applegate: The heart of our mission
is public safety, the heart of our mission

is seeing our information used.

And that means we absolutely rely on many
different partnerships, both within the government

and outside the government in order to achieve
that end.