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New Scientist-in-Charge at USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory

January 14, 2021

The U.S. Geological Survey is pleased to announce the selection of Dr. Jon Major to serve as the new Scientist-in-Charge of the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory.

Dr. Jon Major, Scientist-in-Charge of the U.S. Geological Survey Cascades Volcano Observatory.
Dr. Jon Major, Scientist-in-Charge of the U.S. Geological Survey Cascades Volcano Observatory.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — As of January 4, 2021, Dr. Jon Major takes over leadership of the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory from Seth Moran, who has served as the scientist-in-charge for the past five years.

“It is my pleasure to announce Jon Major as the new scientist-in-charge of the Cascades Volcano Observatory,” said Michelle Coombs, acting director of the USGS Volcano Science Center, who oversees all five U.S. volcano observatories. “Jon has had a distinguished career with the USGS in geomorphology research, and the Volcano Science Center will benefit greatly from his energy, enthusiasm and leadership over the next five years.” 

Major will lead the Cascades Volcano Observatory in its three major areas of focus: research, monitoring and public outreach. Serving for the next five years, he envisions maintaining CVO as one of the world’s premier volcano observatories. His primary goals are to ensure that CVO remains at the cutting edge of volcano science inquiry by rebuilding staff lost to retirement attrition, and by enhancing staff as needed to meet the challenges of protecting the public.

“I want to ensure that the Cascades volcanoes are sustainably monitored in a manner that is commensurate with the hazards they pose to society,” says Major. “I look forward to the challenges ahead and working hard to increase awareness of volcano hazards throughout the Cascades and beyond through stakeholder engagement at multiple levels.”

Major joined CVO as a hydrological field assistant in 1982, eventually working his way to the position of research hydrologist. His research has focused on hydrological hazards associated with volcanic eruptions and landscape responses to large inputs of sediment, ranging from the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mount St. Helens to dam removals.

“One of the most fascinating things learned from Mount St. Helens and other volcanoes is how resilient Earth is,” says Major. “No matter how devastating the eruption, Earth always rebounds.” 

Major has worked at volcanoes in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, El Salvador, Chile and the Philippines. 

He received his B.S. from the University of Dayton, a M.S. from Penn State and a Ph.D. from the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Washington.

Major takes over the helm of a well-functioning observatory from Seth Moran, who served as the scientist-in-charge from 2015 to 2020. During his tenure, CVO made great strides to improve monitoring networks at Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood, including major upgrades to the Mount Rainier lahar warning system, and also initiated plans to expand networks at Glacier Peak and Mount Adams.  Moran also facilitated CVO’s massive years-long effort to organize an international volcanology meeting held in August 2017 in Portland; initiated the establishment of the National Volcano Early Warning System, which was authorized by Congress in 2019; and worked with the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the effort to create a long-term multi-agency plan to mitigate hazards of sediment transport and Spirit Lake drainage at Mount St. Helens. Moran will resume his work as a volcano seismologist at CVO.