Stories tagged volcano monitoring

Mar
23
2009

Newly erupted: This view of Mt. Redoubt is looking south as the volcano begins to erupt and send an ash cloud into the sky.
Newly erupted: This view of Mt. Redoubt is looking south as the volcano begins to erupt and send an ash cloud into the sky.Courtesy Alaska Volcano Observatory / U.S. Geological Survey
It's been giving off warning signs for nearly two months now, but Mt. Redoubt in Alaska has erupted five times in the past days, sending an ash cloud nine miles high into the sky.

Here's the full Associated Press news account of the eruption.

Volcano eruptions are always interesting to those interested in science, but I'm guessing there will be even more discussion about the topic now as the federal government's volcano monitoring program was criticized as a "pork project" by Republicans in the aftermath of President Obama's recent budget proposal. And Buzz readers weighed in on that on this discussion thread.

Mt. Redoubt is about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage in a sparsely populated section of Alaska (but then again, isn't most of Alaska sparsely populated?). Prevailing winds are blowing most of the ash away from Anchorage, but people in the coastal city are feeling some of the impacts of the blast.

Also, the eruption has altered air traffic patterns in the area as ash suspended in the air can cause problems to passing planes.

Feb
25
2009

Last night, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal criticized government spending authorized by the stimulus bill, calling particular attention to "something called volcano monitoring." Hey, $140 million is a lot of money, and what does it get us? Turns out volcano monitoring is actually kind of a big deal.

Fluffy cloud of water vapor, or engine-clogging agent of doom?: Taken from Alaska Airlines jet on July 20, 2008. This photo of Alaska's Okmok volcano was taken from 37,000 feet up, looking south from about 15 miles to the north. Scientists estimate the top of the ash cloud was at 20,000 ft.
Fluffy cloud of water vapor, or engine-clogging agent of doom?: Taken from Alaska Airlines jet on July 20, 2008. This photo of Alaska's Okmok volcano was taken from 37,000 feet up, looking south from about 15 miles to the north. Scientists estimate the top of the ash cloud was at 20,000 ft.Courtesy Phil Walgren, Alaska Volcano Observatory (USGS) and Alaska Airlines

It teaches us a lot about earth processes, of course, but some folks aren't swayed by talk of scientific advancement.

An argument for everyone is that monitoring enables authorities to plan and implement evacuations when necessary.

"The USGS has issued several warnings over the past 10 years, though predicting the timing and size of eruptions remains a difficult task.

Volcano monitoring likely saved many lives — and significant money — in the case of the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines (where the United States had military bases at the time), according to the USGS.

The cataclysmic eruption lasted more than 10 hours and sent a cloud of ash as high as 22 miles into the air that grew to more than 300 miles across.

The USGS spent less than $1.5 million monitoring the volcano and was able to warn of the impending eruption, which allowed authorities to evacuate residents, as well as aircraft and other equipment from U.S. bases there.

The USGS estimates that the efforts saved thousands of lives and prevented property losses of at least $250 million (considered a conservative figure)."

Still not convinced? Here's another benefit: volcano monitoring keeps our air routes safer, too. See, a pilot can't easily tell the difference between an ash cloud and a regular cloud. But ash clouds can damage flight control systems and kill jet engines. Don't think that's really a big problem? Some 10,000 passengers and millions of dollars' worth of cargo are ferried by US aircraft over the North Pacific every day, and there are 100 potentially dangerous volcanoes under those air routes.

Suddenly "volcano monitoring" doesn't seem like a goofy piece of esoteric research...