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Equipment Replacement and Geologic Investigations Related to the Alaska Earthquake

On November 30, 2018, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake caused widespread damage to infrastructure and property in the Anchorage area.

Hardening of Alaska Volcano Observatory Facilities and Networks Post-November 2018 Anchorage Earthquake

2018 Alaska earthquake
(Public domain.)

The USGS Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) maintains a network of around 200 monitoring stations deployed on 31 active volcanoes across the state. Real-time data from station instrumentation are acquired at the AVO facility in Anchorage and routinely processed to better understand current activity and hazards at Alaskan volcanoes. The data-processing system infrastructure has remained dependent on the AVO facility. To offset this vulnerability, disaster supplemental funding was used to:

  1. Improve/update the networking infrastructure in the building itself,
  2. Install redundant telemetry pathways at remote data transfer hubs,
  3. Access cloud services to begin eliminating AVO's dependence on the Anchorage facility, and
  4. Install an emergency backup power generator at the Anchorage facility. 

In recent years (and through other appropriations), AVO has taken steps to modernize its monitoring networks. A primary focus has been the conversion of approximately 180 analog radio-telemetered stations to digital telemetry, which is required for the National Volcano Early Warning System (NVEWS) networks.  Modernization of Alaska networks to NVEWS standards, scheduled to be completed in FY22, allows AVO to detect eruption precursors earlier; results in improved capability to deliver timely forecasts and warnings of hazardous activity; and ensures that AVO stations comply with National Telecommunications and Information Administration authorizations for radio frequency spectrum use. 

With P.L. 116-20 funding, AVO has also proactively taken steps to harden the overall telemetry backbone and to remove single points of failure at some of the critical telecommunication nodes. Hardening included installing redundant data links at Amchitka Island and Fort Glen to improve the resiliency of data transmission for volcano monitoring and situational awareness.  Supplemental funding was also used to develop a hybrid facility-cloud system for data processing that reduced AVO’s dependence on the Anchorage facility and to replace the Local Area Network (LAN) environment to significantly improve the IT infrastructure. Installation of an emergency power generator now allows for continuous data flow and access during power outages, ensuring that AVO can operate 24/7 during major eruption response or human-caused events.

Despite their remote geographic locations, Alaskan volcanoes pose a threat to civil and military air routes and must be monitored. P.L. 116-20 funding has allowed for beforementioned improvements, which results in AVO now having improved situational awareness at all monitored volcanoes and be best equipped to efficiently and reliably deliver forecasts and warnings of eruptive activity to key partners such as the National Weather Service (including Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers In Washington, D.C. and Anchorage Alaska), NOAA Tsunami Warning Centers, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Defense 557th Weather Wing, the State of Alaska, and the public.

Geologic Investigations

The USGS Earthquake Hazard Program received disaster recovery funds (P.L. 116-20) to support response and recovery to the November 30, 2018, magnitude 7.1 Anchorage, Alaska earthquake, and to fund work necessary to include Alaska in the upcoming 2023 update to the National Seismic Hazard Model (NSHM). The NSHM provides the basis for seismic provisions in the Nation’s building codes, which affect one trillion dollars’ worth of new construction annually in the United States. Including an Alaska model in the 2023 NSHM update would not be possible without disaster supplemental funding. Further, P.L 116-20 funds have greatly increased USGS paleoseismic capabilities (a term describing various approaches to study the earthquake history of a region, using trenching, coring, and similar tools) both within Alaska and across the nation, and particularly in lacustrine environments, where lake-bottom sediments can record a long and accurate history of earthquake activity. Results from these studies are improving the Alaska hazard model and accelerating its completion for inclusion in the 2023 NSHM update.

Seismic hazard map of U.S. with colored contours
Earthquake hazard map showing peak ground accelerations having a 2 percent probability of being exceeded in 50 years, for a firm rock site.  The map is based on the most recent USGS models for the conterminous U.S. (2018), Hawaii (1998), and Alaska (2007).  The models are based on seismicity and fault-slip rates, and take into account the frequency of earthquakes of various magnitudes.  Locally, the hazard may be greater than shown, because site geology may amplify ground motions.

2019 supplemental funds have also been used to construct a ground failure inventory of the 2018 earthquake (600 mapped features), to improve the understanding of regional susceptibility to landslides and liquefaction hazards following earthquake shaking. This effort has also supported construction of a more complete ground failure database for the 1964 Great Alaska earthquake (over 400 mapped features added).  This work will improve the understanding of, and predictive capabilities for, ground failure associated with future earthquakes. For example, the ground failure database will improve the calibration of models underlying the USGS Ground Failure post-earthquake product, which provides near-real-time situational awareness of earthquake-triggered landslide and liquefaction hazard following significant earthquakes in the U.S. and worldwide.

The USGS Earthquake Hazards Program is part of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), established by Congress in 1977, and the USGS Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS) was established by Congress as a NEHRP facility in the 2000 NEHRP reauthorization. The ANSS is a cooperative effort to collect and analyze seismic and geodetic data on earthquakes, issue timely and reliable notifications of their occurrence and impacts and provide data for earthquake research and the hazard and risk assessments that are the foundation for creating an earthquake-resilient nation.

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