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Three new monitoring stations installed at Mount Hood

November 13, 2020

These stations enhance the existing monitoring network at this high-threat volcano and improve the ability of CVO scientists and their partners to detect and provide warning of any changes in earthquake activity or ground deformation that may signal an increase in volcanic activity and a subsequent danger to people and property.

During September 29 to October 2, 2020, the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service and Mount Hood National Forest, installed three new volcano monitoring stations on the flanks of Mount Hood. The three stations enhance the existing seismic, GPS and volcanic gas monitoring network that is currently in operation around Mount Hood.

Seismic/GPS station YOCR, at Mount Hood
A Cascades Volcano Observatory field team completes the installation of the combined seismic/GPS station YOCR, at Mount Hood. Effective monitoring requires a geographically distributed network of instruments that are located on the upper flanks, and around the volcano, and for these stations to be in place before significant unrest occurs to catch the earliest subtle signals of rising magma.


Installing a seismometer at station BRSP on Mount Hood
Volcano Disaster Assistance Program Geophysicist Jeremy Pesicek digs a hole for a seismometer at station BRSP, on the north flank of Mount Hood. The seismometer, which detects earthquakes, is buried at a depth of at least 1 meter (3 feet).
GPS mast installed at station LSON, on Mount Hood
USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory Geophysicist Rebecca Kramer works on the installation of the GPS mast at new station LSON, at Mount Hood. The GPS measures subtle ground deformation that can occur in response to magma entering or leaving the magma reservoir several miles below the summit.

Each station includes seismic and GPS instruments. The broadband seismometer detects the tiny earthquakes (smaller than Magnitude 1.0 and not felt by humans) caused when magma, gas, or fluids move beneath the volcano. The GPS equipment measures subtle ground deformation of the volcano in response to magma entering or leaving the magma reservoir several miles below the summit.

Installation of GPS mast at station BRSP on Mount Hood
USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory Geophysicist Emily Montgomery-Brown uses a drill to create a small hole in volcanic rock that will support a GPS mast. The effort was part of a three-station installation project at Mount Hood in 2020. This station location is called BRSP.

Mount Hood has erupted repeatedly for hundreds of thousands of years, but its most recent eruption series was from 1781 to 1793, just before the arrival of Lewis and Clark in 1805. While Mount Hood is not currently erupting, it produces frequent earthquakes and earthquake swarms, and steam and volcanic gases are emitted in the area around Crater Rock near the volcano’s summit. Because of the significant hazards the volcano poses to nearby communities and infrastructure as well as to aviation, USGS researchers designated Mount Hood as a very high threat volcano in an updated 2018 National Volcanic Threat Assessment, in part because of its proximity to nearby communities and popular recreation areas, major highways and potential to impact airspace affecting the Portland metropolitan area during unrest or eruption.


New seismic/GPS station (LSON) installed at Mount Hood
USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory Geophysicist Wes Thelen, removes ropes from new station LSON, at Mount Hood (Mount Hood is pictured in the distance). The fiberglass hut, delivered by helicopter, will house a power supply, data digitizer and other equipment necessary to collect and send seismic and GPS data to the Cascades Volcano Observatory and their monitoring partners.

Robust monitoring networks are a key tool for mitigating volcano hazards that will affect people and property. Volcanoes can awaken rapidly — in just days to weeks — and initial precursors to that awakening can be subtle, including small earthquakes, small ground movements and minor changes in gas chemistry. The most effective volcano monitoring network requires that instruments be installed in multiple locations on the volcano’s flanks well before unrest begins to catch these early changes.

Helicopter delivers equipment to station BRSP on Mount Hood
A USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory field team waits on this remote north flank of Mount Hood, as a helicopter delivers supplies and equipment to station BRSP. The station was installed with minimal impact on the environment. A helicopter delivered equipment via external sling load and USGS personnel accessed the site by foot.

Data from these unoccupied, remote monitoring stations are transmit in real-time data to the Cascades Volcano Observatory and its monitoring partner, the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network. View data from these new stations on the CVO webpage Mount Hood monitoring data (all monitoring data streams) or at PNSN (earthquakes only).

Volcano monitoring station BRSP, on the north flank of Mount Hood
View of the combined seismic/GPS station BRSP, on the north flank of Mount Hood, Oregon. Mount Hood is pictured in the distance.