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Understanding volcanic hazards can save lives

Volcanic eruptions are one of Earth's most dramatic and violent agents of change. Not only can powerful explosive eruptions drastically alter land and water for tens of kilometers around a volcano, but tiny liquid droplets of sulfuric acid erupting into the stratosphere can change our planet's climate temporarily.

Aerial of lava flow
Helicopter overflight of Kīlauea Volcano's lower East Rift zone on May 19, 2018, around 8:18 AM, HST. ‘A‘ā lava flows emerging from the elongated fissure 16-20 form channels. The flow direction in this picture is from upper center to the lower left.

Volcanic eruptions often force people living near volcanoes to abandon their land and homes, sometimes forever. Those living farther away are likely to avoid complete destruction, but their cities and towns, crops, industrial plants, transportation systems, and electrical grids can still be damaged by tephra, ash, lahars, and flooding.

Fortunately, volcanoes exhibit precursory unrest that, when detected and analyzed in time, allows eruptions to be anticipated and communities at risk to be forewarned. The warning time preceding volcanic events typically allows sufficient time for affected communities to implement response plans and mitigation measures.

Hazard response and coordination plans are multi-agency efforts that define the responsibilities and actions to take in the event of a restless or active volcano. Scientists from the five regional volcano observatories of the USGS Volcano Hazards Program participate in developing these plans with state and local governments of at-risk areas. If volcanic unrest or an eruption occurs, scientists from the observatories will keep state and local officials informed of potential hazards so that coordination and response plans can be updated as needed.

A complete list of our long-term Volcano Hazard Assessments is available in our Products section.