April 11, 2009

Volcano Monitoring To Be Upgraded Under Stimulus Plan

The U.S. government will spend $15.2 million to modernize equipment for monitoring U.S. volcanoes and improving warning systems, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Salazar said the United States and its territories have 169 active volcanoes, and 54 of them need improved monitoring so scientists can warn the public about explosive disruptions, alert aircraft to ash clouds and inform communities of falling ash, lava and mud flows.

One example Salazar cited was the recent activity of the Mount Redoubt volcano just 106 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska.

He pointed out that the eruption showed the need for adequate monitoring.

The monitoring would do a better job of warning the public and airlines of eruptions, as it did months before Mount Redoubt blew in March, he added.

Salazar said the Alaska Volcano Observatory first started issuing warnings in late January.

He stated during a conference call with reporters: "We know that we must warn the public of explosive eruptions. We need to alert aircraft of ash clouds and warn communities of ash falls and lava and mud flows."

A Boeing 747 passenger airliner flew into an ash cloud and nearly crashed 19 years ago when the Redoubt volcano erupted.

The Interior Department is responsible for managing $3 billion set aside to upgrade volcano monitoring under the economic stimulus plan passed by Congress.

Some $29.4 million will also be spent to double the number of seismic stations that monitor earthquakes across the country to 1,600, Salazar said.

However, many Republicans have suggested the volcano monitoring is an example of wasteful spending in the stimulus plan.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a February speech that the rapid growth in federal spending should be monitored.

Image Courtesy Leslie Holland-Bartels/AVO/USGS