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Please begin with an informative title:

As per special request--someone asked me to expand upon a comment at another diary regarding the flub by Bobby Jindal {some time ago} when he strongly suggested that we end our Volcano Hazards Monitoring Program. So I understand if this is old news to some of you, but I thought it was a fun request to fulfill.

We need a Volcano Monitoring System in the United States!

First though let me put some caveats out there. I am not an expert on Volcanoes or Earthquakes. I am not a geologist, or vulcanologist, or any of those things. So my treatment of this topic will be very basic. I invite people who are experts to expand upon this if they wish.

Follow me through the orange crater if this interests you.


You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

When people think of volcanoes and vulcanism, they often imagine multiple erupting volcanoes, cindercones in the background, with dinosaurs plodding by wearily, on the verge of extinction.

Volcanoes inhabit our imaginations as symbols of exotic, dangerous places or times. As a child, whenever volcanoes appeared as a prop in a movie or a cartoon, they were this immediate hazard that always smoked, and were on the verge of going off at any moment, catastrophically--burning everything up with violent explosions!  Volcanoes represented time ticking down, the face of an angry god that must be appeased.   There was always orange lava spilling out out of them or shooting out of them, and terrible earthquakes all the time! Popular culture depicted all volcanoes in this manner.

And we would ponder, why anyone would live near a volcano because they are so dangerous and deadly and always on! As a child whenever I read about Mt Vesuvius I always imagined the volcano always erupting and wondered--why didn't those silly people just move! Why would they stay so close to a lava spewing giant?

But it isn't necessarily like that.

Volcanoes can be active, or dormant, or in a stage inbetween. You can live on or near a volcano and maybe the only thing you see is some steam or a well placed cloud that looks like smoke for a moment, and never see lava or even experience an Earthquake, and then one day--everything changes.  

Some volcanoes are inactive or dormant for centuries, because the tectonics that drive them have stabilized for a time. And that can mean whole cities can build up around and on them, because for generations, there were no disturbances, or no significant disturbances.

We often look at mountains, and never imagine that a significant portion of them might be various kinds of volcanoes.

So, when Bobby Jindal thought he might take a surreptitious stab at Obama's home state--Hawaii, a state known for it's vulcanism {because I believe that was the root of this}, he apparently didn't understand that our United States Geological Survey, had a program in place that monitored volcanoes not only in the Hawaiian Islands, but also all over the Western Coast of the United States, including Alaska. Because all of those areas reside within the Pacific Ring of Fire, and as a result, contain volcanoes, at various stages of activity.

Volcanoes offer more hazards than ash clouds and lava. They can also produce earthquakes and cause what are known as Lahars. They can affect our weather, create massive ash clouds that ground aircraft, create tsunamis, or even cause what would essentially be a nuclear winter if the eruption was large enough.

But first things first. If you have never done this, I urge you to visit the United States Geological Service Webpage. And then for the purposes of this diary, go to the right hand margin under, "Browse Topics of Interest," and click on "Volcanoes."

You will notice at the top of the page that appears, that you first receive a definition of the word, Volcano:

Vents in the surface of the Earth, through which magma and associated gases erupt; also the forms, or structures, usually conical that are produced by erupted material. qtd by USGS
This is the page for the Volcano Hazards Program for the USGS. Most of the volcanoes have been assigned a white triangle legend for Unassigned, or a green triangle that contains an N, which means normal. However today there are 2 orange triangles with eyes in them, meaning there's a watch.

As you scroll down the page, there are links to the observatory of Mt St Helens, various educational materials, and stuff to help you be prepared should you live in an area that has it's own volcano.

There are over 160 Volcanoes in the United States. You can view an alphabetized, partial list on this page, About U.S. Volcanoes.

On this FAQ sheet regarding hazards of volcanoes, one of the first listed are Lahars.

A: Debris flows, or lahars, are slurries of muddy debris and water caused by mixing of solid debris with water, melted snow, or ice. Lahars destroyed houses, bridges, and logging trucks during the May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, and have inundated other valleys around Cascade volcanoes during prehistoric eruptions. Lahars at Nevado del Ruiz volcano, Colombia, in 1985, killed more than 23,000 people. At Mount Rainier, lahars have also been produced by major landslides that apparently were neither triggered nor accompanied by eruptive activity. Lahars can travel many tens of miles in a period of hours, destroying everything in their paths. Volcanic Hazards faq
I bring this up, because this was one of the first things I thought of when Jindal made that ridiculous statement. This is a very real hazard for some Pacific Northwest towns. You can read more about Lahars on Lahars and Their Effects.

For example, the first time I looked at a Lahar Hazard Map, was for Mt Rainier. Here is a page devoted to Mt Rainier and it's surrounding communities: Learning to live with volcanic risks.

Mount Rainier (fig. 1) is an active volcano that is currently at rest between eruptions. Its next eruption might produce volcanic ash, lava flows, or pyroclastic flows.
The page goes on to describe Lahars are things that behave like "flowing concrete". More information can be found at the Cascades Volcano Observatory, particularly the Maps and Graphics page.

Now this isn't for panicking. I know that the panic of the hour, for the longest time, was Yellowstone Super-caldera. It is scary to contemplate, but not worth getting all worked up about right this second.

Just because people live on volcanoes and have to contemplate certain risky scenarios, doesn't mean that the worst shall come to pass now or in our lifetimes. But it is prudent to be aware of this, and to observe and study it, just like we do the same with tornadoes, or flooding, or hurricanes or earthquakes.

There are lots of volcanic observatories to visit online.

It's interesting, fun, and I personally observe that our tax dollars are not being wasted on these programs, for more reasons that just risk management and hazard assessment.

Without continuous observation, using the scientific method, we would not have come so far in our understanding of the geological forces that drive vulcanism, and plate tectonics. Gathering all those minute details--continuously, generation after generation, and correlating them and decoding their meanings, understanding these systems, are tremendously important. Humans have always lived in close proximity to volcanoes, and there are some advantages to that.

Geothermal energy for one and farmland enriched by lahars, and glacial flows, and ash clouds. Even finding these vents in the seas, and understanding how life can happen in the total absence of the sun [meaning no photosynthesis, but instead chemosynthesis] is important for our understanding of where to look for life on exoplanets, or even on some of the other moons in our solar system.

Watch Volcano Doctors on PBS. See more from Life on Fire.

Studying anything takes time, and that takes money. So government funds are very important for ensuring not only the health and safety of our citizens from immediate hazards like lahars, lava flows, pyroclastic flows or tsunamis, but also to increase our technical comprehension of these forces, so that we can some day, accurately predict them and save lives and even valuable property.

I would like to also put out this gentle reminder. Volcanoes affect more than what happens on the ground or under the earth. Eruptions of significant size can release ash clouds that not only ground aircraft, and stifle travel, but also can directly affect weather and the ocean.

Watch Icelandic Volcanoes on PBS. See more from Life on Fire.

The volcano doesn't even have to be on our continent to achieve this. One only has to view the "Year Without a Summer," to understand some of the worst case scenarios. Or perhaps the word, Tsunami might mean something to some readers? Krakatoa?

The little Ice Age is another product of vulcanism.

I was sort of shocked when Jindal made that statement, about cutting funding to our volcano monitoring programs. I understand that he probably wouldn't know about vulcanism in depth, but surely he remembers the Mt St. Helens Eruption in the 1980s. There have been other eruptions in Alaska as well, in addition to the usual activity in Hawaii, and Yellowstone is constantly monitored as well--vulcanism is what drives the geysers and heats some of the pools.  While I didn't expect him to know the names of all the volcanoes in the US, I surely expected him to understand the need for observation and study, because the West Coast is in the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Like the Ocean and Weather, don't turn your back on volcanoes. Even the quiet ones. So thank you to all the scientists who work so hard to study volcanoes, and vulcanism and keep us informed, and thank you to the United States Geological Survey for this and so many other services.  

Thu Feb 21, 2013 at  5:15 AM PT: Skwimmer shared an excellent link, I never knew about, but I believe everyone should have access to:


PBO stands for the Plate Boundary Observatory.  On another note, it snowed in Oklahoma yesterday, and rained and sleeted and snowed last night. Oh sweet moisture! It's the 2nd wet snow we have received in a week if you can imagine such a thing!

Thu Feb 21, 2013 at  9:56 AM PT: Additional links to Mt St Helens Videos.

USGS video:


And here is old news footage uploaded to Youtube about a photographer caught on the mountain during the eruption.

Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 10:18 AM PT: Okay, so I just keep adding links, but honestly the  people commenting here, just keep bringing us super cool stuff. Cool, but sad. Here is a Scientific American story, talking about the Scientists that died on Mt St Helens. It's really touching and informative. Special thanks to CJB


Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to GreenMother on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 06:19 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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