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The US can finally get an early warning system for volcanoes

Mount St. Helens, responsible for the deadliest volcanic eruption in US history.
Photo: Kimon Berlin (Flickr)

America has 1

61 active volcanoes spread over 12 states and two overseas territories. This makes it easy to become one of the most volcanic places on earth, which is why it is deeply curious that the United States does not yet have a nationwide early warning system for its fiery mountains.

A law protecting the landscape, which the Senate has previously passed this month and the house happened on Tuesday, has changed. Sponsored by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the Natural Resources Management Act (p.47) urges for fundamental changes in how many natural wonders of America are managed. The Bill has received widespread attention as it has named over millions of new acres of wilderness – but the call for the establishment of the National Volcano Early Warning and Surveillance System (NVEWS) has largely gone unnoticed.

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This system would allow the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to observe these 161 volcanoes at levels that merit their threatening natures. NVEWS would "modernize, standardize and stabilize" USGS volcano observatories – Alaska, California, Cascades, Hawai'an and Yellowstone – while making their surveillance networks a single interoperable system.

The idea is not new. In fact, the USGS has been pushing for NVEWS for some 14 years.

When Charles Mandeville, the Program Coordinator of the USGS Volcano Hazards Program, announced, NVEWS had been proposed in Legendary Hell since its inception. Although NVEWS was introduced by several congressional delegations – in 2005, 2007, 2012 and 2013 – no bill has ever been contained in a chamber to which an accompanying law had been submitted in the other chamber.

Fortunately the law was passed Now both the Parliament and the Senate have received widespread support from both parties. The Democrats supported the broader country package because of its enormous environmental protection, while the Republicans enjoyed the increasing access of private individuals to the public land. It seems that NVEWS was well inserted. Provided the bill is signed by the president, the early warning system will be finally approved.

That's good news, because the current state of monitoring American volcanoes is far from adequate. According to USGS 'latest National Volcanic Threat Assessment, which details the dangers of the country's volcanoes, 57 of them pose a "high" or "very high" threat to society, the economy, infrastructure and more. Nevertheless, the USGS just "somewhere between 30-40 percent of the way to have an ideal surveillance network for these volcanoes," said Mandeville.

The range of instruments, from seismic sensors and GPS stations to gas detectors, varies a lot. According to Mandeville, out of 88 out of the 161, there is "little coverage". Alaska, home to a breathtaking 52 active volcanoes, has only 31 of them with instruments. In the Cascades, home to many threatening volcanoes, surveillance technology is often outdated. Only now, for example, does Mount Rainier receive an improved early warning system to warn of the living slopes of incoming lahars, fast-moving, concrete-like mud and volcanic deposits.

The NVEWS would fill in the blanks by giving each active volcano the monitoring equipment it needs, either through upgrades or through new installation packages.

But he would do more. NVEWS would set up a 24-hour volcano surveillance office to service the entire country. Even if the individual observatories are not in rapid response mode, this office is on-demand, processing and analyzing live data streams from all 161 volcanoes and detecting worrying signs of an outbreak. It would also help streamline the agency's cooperation with emergency services and local government agencies.

Sarah DeYoung, assistant professor at the Institute for Disaster Management at the University of Georgia, said that this would "improve the time" warnings that could be evacuated. "The general public is checking alerts before hurricanes and outbreaks are reported, but this bureau of surveillance could provide warnings for advanced people, as 24/7 would alert them to changes or indications of activity. "19659010] Integration is a concept that plays a big role in NVEWS. Although they still have their own views, all USGS observatories would function as a single organism. By unifying the technological systems that monitor America's volcanoes, researchers can look through multiple data streams much more efficiently. This would also allow USGS employees, wherever they are in the world, to access and interpret complex data remotely.

This system happened to have a kind of dry run during the Kilauea crisis, as experts from US-based observatories were dispatched to study the outbreak on the ground. Kilauea may have destroyed 700 houses, but it is testimony to the work of the USGS and the collaboration with local authorities that during the months-long eruption no one died, which was also the most heavily monitored geological event in human history.

The NVEWS goes beyond the limits of the USGS are limited by a subsidy program for universities and institutions is established. It would provide financial support to those looking for new monitoring techniques, new analysis techniques and systems that integrate all types of volcanological data from seismic signals to (enhanced) satellite coverage.

All this will make the USGS much better at catching volcanoes while building an outbreak. In addition to protecting the public, "it also means that volcanologists are less vulnerable if we do not catch up with a volcano that acts poorly and quickly escalates into an outbreak," Mandeville

said. Mandeville really wanted to know that NVEWS would do this Protect the whole country, not just the volcanic states. A sufficiently large Pacific Coast outbreak would seriously disrupt the supply chain of resources entering the country from that region and create socio-economic turmoil of all kinds.

A relatively small eruption at Eyjafjallajökull could cause the greatest impact to be felt far from the volcano, "explained Volcanologist Janine Krippner with reference to the Icelandic volcano, whose ash cloud is the European airspace in the This should not only be the concern of the people living in their area. "

The price of NVEWS is $ 55 million, according to the bill. In terms of US budget figures, these are the peanuts. By comparison, military spending for fiscal year 2019 was $ 597.1 billion.

However, this is just an authorization bill for the launch of NVEWS. If it is legally signed, Congress must use the funds separately. Even if the funds are expected to be provided, this early warning system will not be operational overnight.

"If NVEWS was passed and we got the money tomorrow, it would take 7 to 10 years to close the surveillance holes at the high threat and very high dangerous volcanoes," Mandeville said. At the same time, the USGS needs to adapt to the emergence of new and unforeseen technological advances.

That's why the clock is ticking. Nobody knows when the next volcanic paroxysm can happen, and if the NVEWS are not fully operational, America will have a significant disadvantage if it does. However, as recent developments have shown, there is still room for hope.

After the Senate resolution was passed and just before the House approved its version, Jess Phoenix a volcanologist and co-founder of The Nonprofit Blueprint Earth, told Earther that the outbreak of Kilauea is fresh in the eyes of many representatives should be. She said that this would encourage her to give the USGS what she needs.

"Understanding and monitoring the threats posed by volcanoes are an integral part of public safety, and we need leaders who realize that better information will lead to better preparedness that is equivalent to life-saving," she said. If they do not recognize that, the message to the public is straightforward, she added, "Electoral legislators listening to scientists."

After all, after 14 years, it seems that these legislators have done so.

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