Don Young pitches volcano monitoring

Posted: Friday, March 19, 2010

Two days and a year after the first explosion in 2009 at the summit of Mount Redoubt, Rep. Don Young introduced legislation on Wednesday to establish a National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System.

The bill is the House version of the same bill introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

It proposes to modernize and unify volcano monitoring systems and would appropriate $15 million a year to the Secretary of the Interior to fund the program.

A national volcano watch and data center would also be opened.

Tom Murray, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey Volcano Science Center in Anchorage said the current thinking is that such an office would be located in the city.

While the bill would put high tech gadgets on mountains all over the western part of the country and Hawaii, Murray said Alaska stood a good chance to benefit.

"It would improve our ability to forecast eruptions and make them with more confidence and work with communities on how to react at appropriate levels," he said.

The USGS operates five observatories in the Lower 48, Alaska and Hawaii, in partnership with universities. Murray said having a unified network would make it easier to tap distant resources for both research and emergencies.

A press release issued by Young's office cited Redoubt's 2009 eruption, in addition to the engine failure of a jet liner during the volcano's 1989-90 eruption as examples for why such a program is needed.

Murray said that while Alaska has become a leader on ash fall aviation issues, he thought some added instrumentation would have helped the Alaska Volcano Observatory understand what was going on inside of Redoubt a year ago.

He said GPS instruments to track deformation of the mountain would have been especially helpful not just in predicting when the mountain would erupt, but also when it was finished.

Redoubt had 19 eruptive events in a two-week period from mid-March though early April, but it wasn't downgraded from a heightened alert level until the end of September.

"Sometimes it's more difficult to detect when an eruption is over than when it's going to begin," Murray said.

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Volcano monitoring was publicly chastised by Louisiana's Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal following a $140 million appropriation to the USGS for monitoring as part of the stimulus package.

Dante Petri can be reached at

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