Research and development scientists design, build, and test equipment for monitoring volcanoes in the U.S. and around the world. New instruments, software, and hardware developed by the USGS enable scientists to acquire, process, and interpret data quickly and effectively. Their work provides greater safety for field scientists, and increased warning time for officials and the public, thereby saving lives and property.
Satellite technologies support careful measurements of ground deformation through InSAR. Ground-based RADAR can detect dense ash clouds in all-weather conditions. Thermal infrared cameras measure lava temperatures, and a new ultraviolet camera creates images of sulfur dioxide content in real time, allowing direct correlation with other geophysical data. Airborne and field geophysical monitoring can identify zones of weakened rock and wetted sub-surface that can indicate zones more susceptible to collapse. Scientists are improving earthquakes sensors' capability to detect sound waves (infrasound) that can record volcanic sound waves from tens to hundreds of miles away. The research and development group continues to convert seismic monitoring equipment from analog to digital format to increase the quality of the data and to accommodate the spectrum of radio frequencies available. New technologies allow for more rapid and reliable methods for data transmission from instruments on the volcano to CVO. A new telemetry system throughout the Cascade Range strengthens capabilities for reliable data transmission.
A principal objective has been to adopt new technologies that integrate many instruments into a single package to lower power requirements, reduce instrument footprint on sensitive landscapes, be portable for rapid deployment into remote areas, and transmit data effectively back to the CVO. These requirements were met during the 2004-2008 eruption of Mount St. Helens when CVO engineers developed the Spider monitoring unit. The Spider houses several instruments in one container to detect earthquakes, ground swelling and contractions, as well as changes in gas chemistry from emitted volcanic fumes. The instrument spider can be deployed by helicopter, and reduces dangers to scientists who previously were required to spend long periods of time in hazardous volcanic areas. When volcano conditions are stable, scientists deploy permanent stations that use similar instrument packages for long-term volcano monitoring.