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Who We Are and What We Do

The David A. Johnston Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO) is part of the USGS Volcano Hazards Program and serves the nation's interest by helping people live knowledgeably with volcanoes.

CVO's goal is to keep natural processes from becoming natural disasters.

The Cascades Volcano Observatory offices in Vancouver, WA. (Credit: Driedger, Carolyn L.. Public domain.)

The USGS CVO staff conduct research on many aspects of active volcanism, respond to dangerous volcanic activity in many parts of the world, and maintain a close watch over volcanoes in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Legislation passed by Congress in 1974 made the Geological Survey the lead Federal agency responsible for providing reliable and timely warnings of volcanic hazards to state and local authorities. Under this mandate, the USGS established a permanent regional office at Vancouver, Washington, after the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mount St. Helens. CVO is also home office to the USGS Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP), which aids crisis response to eruptions and volcanic unrest around the world.

To boost community resilience in the face of volcanic hazards, USGS-CVO works closely with other government agencies, public officials, emergency response groups, the business community, educators, and concerned citizens.

Gas being collected into a glass vacuum flask using a titanium tube inserted into a fumarole vent at Mount Baker's Sherman Crater, Washington.

CVO scientists study and monitor volcanoes then communicate to the public.

Scientists with a diversity of interests and expertise are needed to study the past history of volcanos, develop new tools and ideas to understand volcanic systems, monitor current volcano behavior, assess future impacts, and communicate with officials and people at risk. At CVO:

  • We Evaluate Volcano Hazards – Scientists examine and map volcanic landscapes to locate the areas that were impacted by volcanic processes in the past. Rocks, and sometimes charcoal, are sampled and dated to help determine the types and frequency of volcanic events. This information helps scientists anticipate future activity and can aid in reducing risk posed by future eruptions through land-use and emergency planning.
  • We Monitor Restless Volcanoes – Volcanoes often show signs that they are getting ready to erupt days to months in advance. Seismic activity, ground movements, and gas emissions at Cascade volcanoes are monitored by CVO in order to detect subtle changes that my herald the next eruption.
  • We Communicate Hazards and Preparedness Information – CVO provides information about volcanoes and volcano hazards to public officials, land-use planners, emergency response organizations, the Federal Aviation Administration, National Weather Service, and other federal agencies, the news media, schools, and the general public. When volcanic activity increases, CVO issues advisories, warnings, and, whenever possible, specific forecasts concerning eruptions and their potential impacts.
  • We Develop New Tools and Test New Ideas for Monitoring Volcanoes – USGS scientists study volcanoes to develop new ideas about how volcanoes work and to improve eruption-prediction methods. Related research topics include dynamics of debris flows, effects of volcanic gases on weather and climate, and effects of increased sediment transport on streams. New instrumentation, software, and hardware developed by the USGS enable scientists to acquire, process, and interpret data more quickly and effectively than ever before.
USGS CVO scientist answers media inquiries relating to the increase in Mount St. Helens activity, October 2004. (Credit: Topinka, Lyn. Public domain.)
Seismic spider, a rapid-response instrument slung from a helicopter...
Seismic spider (painted green). This unit was designed with a seperate weighted accelerometer (seismic unit) to replace the unit put out on November 20, 2004. (Credit: Poland, Mike. Public domain.)