California Volcano Observatory

Volcano Research Laboratories

CalVO hosts several laboratories for multidisciplinary research of geologic phenomena. 

USGS campus in Menlo Park, California - office location of the Cali...

USGS campus in Menlo Park, California, including Building 15, the home of many Volcano Science Center laboratories

These facilities are organized under the California Volcano Observatory, but provide support for all 5 USGS volcano observatories, including the Alaska, Cascades, Hawaii and Yellowstone Volcano Observatories. The physical labs are dispersed amongst several locations on the Menlo Park and Moffett Field USGS campuses.

Click the links to the left to see detailed descriptions of the labs and contact information for lab managers.

Our laboratories and their capabilities include: 

  • Argon Geochronology - radiometric dating of rocks bearing argon decay products
  • Gas Geochemistry - chemical analysis of gas and liquid phases of volcanic and geothermal fluids
  • Magma Dynamics - experimental recreation of magmatic conditions within the Earth's crust and mantle
  • Microbeam Analysis - high resolution imaging and geochemical analysis of Earth materials
  • Paleomagnetics - analysis of the magnetic record contained in Earth materials
  • Spectroscopy - infrared spectrographic analysis of the fluid and gas content of natural and artificial materials
  • Rock Preparation and Microscopy - facilities for preparing rocks and samples of Earth materials for analysis, including cutting, polishing, microscope observation, and sample packaging

In addition to on-campus labs, we also have a cooperative agreement with the Stanford University School of Earth Sciences, to operate a large-format Sensitive High-Resolution Ion MicroProbe (SHRIMP) that provides a unique capability for the Western Region and the Bureau ( Ion microprobe analysis (secondary ion mass spectrometry, SIMS) is used for precise determination of isotope ratios and trace element concentrations in solid materials with high spatial resolution. The SHRIMP RG (Reverse Geometry) typically extracts atoms for analysis in its doubly focusing mass spectrometer from a volume 30 micrometers in diameter and a few micrometers deep. USGS scientists from all regions use the SHRIMP RG, most in geology, some in hydrology, and a few in biology. Recent research topics include U–Pb and U–Th (U series) geochronology; trace element concentrations in minerals, volcanic glass, and biogenic carbonates; and Sr isotope ratios in biogenic and hydrothermal calcium carbonate. Visit the SHIRMP website for detailed information about the facilities and research, and contact Jorge Vazquez ( for USGS user information.