Volcano Hazards Program

Networks of multiple seismometers are necessary to adequately monitor volcanoes

Seismometer installed in a vault above ground at Mount Baker, Washi...

Seismometer installed in a vault above ground at Mount Baker, Washington. These are typically buried but Forest Service restrictions required it be installed above ground.

(Credit: Hagel, Karl. Public domain.)

A seismometer is an instrument that measures ground vibrations caused by a variety of processes. A seismic network, typically 6-8 seismometers within 20 km (13 mi) of a volcano, is required for basic earthquake location capabilities. However, for very high-threat volcanoes where high-accuracy is critical for tracking subtle changes in earthquake location, networks should have double this number of seismometers within 20 km (13 mi) of the volcano.

Combined advances in monitoring networks and volcano seismology lead to better eruption warnings.

Seismologist installing equipment at station NED on Mount St. Helen...

Seismologist installing equipment at station NED on Mount St. Helens, Washington. Mount Rainier in distance.

(Credit: Mosbrucker, Adam. Public domain.)

Seismic data from monitoring networks is viewed and processed in real time to aid in tracking and understanding processes happening beneath the ground surface. Using automated analysis, volcano seismologists can often determine the near real-time changing character of a volcano's earthquake activity and thus the changing eruptive behavior. By combining this information with data acquired from other disciplines, VHP scientists have a better understanding of the volcanic plumbing system and can better determine the processes that may lead to an eruption.