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Overlay represents area within CalVO's jurisdiction.
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Monthly Update
Friday, February 01, 2019 12:17 PM US/Pacific
Current Volcano Alert Level: NORMAL
Current Aviation Color Code: GREEN
California Volcano Observatory's mission
As a part of the U.S. Geological Survey's Volcano Hazards Program, the California Volcano Observatory aims to advance scientific understanding of volcanic processes and lessen the harmful impacts of volcanic activity in the volcanically active areas of California and Nevada.

NEWS   (archive)
Young Volcanoes in California & Nevada1

USGS Director visits CalVO
February 07, 2019

During a tour of western USGS offices, Director James F. Reilly II visited the CalVO offices and operations center in Menlo Park, CA. After meeting early-career scientists and conducting a town hall on the Menlo Park Campus, Director Reilly visited the CalVO Operations room, where he received updates on CalVO's ongoing work with stakeholders in California, the observatory's role in volcanic crisis response (particularly in the 2018 Kilauea eruption), and new efforts to produce long-term hazard assessments that will support land management and emergency planning operations in the State. He also toured the Magma Dynamics Lab, and heard how samples of molten magma are created in special furnaces and pressurized vessels to simulate the physical and chemical processes that precede hazardous volcanic activity.

Director Reilly was confirmed for the USGS Director's position in April 2018. He is the 17th USGS director, and has a background in geological exploration research, space operations, and academic management. He had a 13-year career as an astronaut at NASA, where he flew 3 spaceflight missions and 5 spacewalks, and his geological research has taken him to Antarctica and the depths of the continental slope in the Gulf of Mexico.

USGS publishes strategic plan for examining risk from natural hazards
November 30, 2018

A new USGS report, Science for a Risky World: A USGS Plan for Risk Research and Applications, defines for the first time the role of USGS in risk research and applications. This includes hazard assessments, operational forecasts and warnings, vulnerability assessments, risk assessments, risk communication, decision-support systems, and post-event assessments. These activities and products are connected by the need to directly support decision makers in their efforts to better understand societal risk from hazards and to have the necessary information to make science-based, risk reduction decisions. The Risk Plan identifies the Bureau's core competencies in this arena and includes background on and specific recommendations for building institutional capacity for creating sustained partnerships, supporting professional staff, and improving product delivery.

Volcanic Threat Assessment help prioritize risk reduction efforts at U.S. volcanoes.
October 24, 2018

Since 1980, there have been 120 eruptions and 52 episodes of notable volcanic unrest at 44 U.S. volcanoes. When erupting, all volcanoes pose a degree of risk to people and infrastructure. However, the risks are not equivalent from one volcano to another because of differences in eruptive style and geographic location.

The USGS assesses active and potentially active volcanoes in the U.S., focusing on history, hazards and the exposure of people, property and infrastructure to harm during the next eruption. The assessment uses 24 factors to obtain a score and threat ranking. The findings are in the newly published 2018 Update to the U.S. Geological Survey National Volcanic Threat Assessment.

Three of the eighteen very high threat volcanoes are in California (Mount Shasta, Lassen and Long Valley) where explosive and snow- and ice-covered volcanoes can project ash or lahar (debris flow) hazards long distances to densely populated and highly developed areas.

The threat ranking is not a list of which volcano will erupt next. Rather, it indicates how severe the impacts might be from future eruptions at any given volcano. The volcanic threat assessment helps prioritize U.S. volcanoes for research, hazard assessment, emergency planning, and volcano monitoring.

Subscribe to the Volcano Notification Service for customized emails about volcanic activity at U.S. monitored volcanoes.

Probing the Depths of Long Valley Caldera
August 15, 2018
A new study by CalVO seismologists used a novel geophysical technique called "full waveform seismic tomography" to image the roots of Long Valley Caldera in eastern California. The study revealed a zone of low seismic wave velocity >1000 cubic kilometers in volume, of which, an average of 27% may be molten. This partially-molten zone is deep within the crust, below about 10 kilometers, and only small pockets of it may be fluid enough to rise upwards and eventually erupt. Although eruptions as large as the one that produced Long Valley Caldera 767,000 years ago are extremely rare, understanding the volume of melt in the roots of volcanic areas is critical for understanding the potential for future eruptions and for anticipating the hazards that may ensue. [Ashton F. Flinders, David R. Shelly, Philip B. Dawson, David P. Hill, Barbara Tripoli, and Yang Shen;]
Pleistocene volcanism and shifting shorelines at Lake Tahoe, California
April 18, 2018
A recently-published study co-authored by two CalVO scientists brings attention to the role that lava dams played in shaping Lake Tahoe. New radiometric argon ages have revealed that between 2.3 and 0.94 million years ago, a small volcanic field in the northwestern Lake Tahoe basin produced basaltic lava flows that dammed the lake three separate times. These 'lava dams' raised the lake level level dozens to hundreds of feet and created raised shorelines. In addition, deltas of brecciated (fragmented) lava, pillow basalts, and tuff cones were formed where lava flows entered the lake - deltas and tuff cones when it reacted explosively with the water, and pillow basalts when the entry was less violent.

The repetitive timing of this volcanic activity poses some interesting questions about hazards. The Lake Tahoe area is not currently considered to be volcanically active (it must have had an eruption in the last 10,000 years to meet that criteria). However, if magma were to return to the area, future eruptions and new lava dams would pose a flooding hazard both around the Lake Tahoe basin and beyond. Lava dams are known to fail rapidly, and a dam that raised the level of the lake and then collapsed could cause serious flooding downstream along the Truckee River. For now, however, there is no danger of an eruption, and such an event might be hundreds of thousands or even millions of years in the future - or might never occur at all.

Kortemeirer, W., Calvert, A., Moore, J.G., Schweickert, R., 2018, Pleistocene volcanism and shifting shorelines at Lake Tahoe, California: Geosphere, vol. 14, no. 2, 23 p. doi: 10.1130/GES01551.1.

USGS volcanologists conduct volcanic crisis training in Chester, CA
December 18, 2017

It isn't often that scientists and land managers spend two entire days together talking about volcanoes outside of an eruptive crisis, but a special FEMA training course allows them to do just that. In mid-November, Margaret Mangan and Jessica Ball of CalVO, John Ewert of CVO and Jeff Rubin of Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue led local emergency managers, fire responders, law enforcement officers, and National Park staff in a FEMA Volcanic Crisis Awareness training held in Chester, CA (near Lassen Volcanic National Park).

The course is designed to give a primer on volcanic hazards and how the USGS monitors volcanoes and communicates in a crisis, but also devotes ample time to a tabletop eruption scenario where emergency managers are led through a fictional volcanic crisis and discuss how they would respond to escalating volcanic activity. The two-day course addresses the scientific, communication, managerial, and psychological aspects of volcanic crises, and allows insight into the goals of different groups in responding to volcanic hazards. CalVO scientists will conduct a similar training at Lassen Volcanic National Park in January 2018.

Explore California's volcanic legacy and future with new field trip guides
July 05, 2017

California is well-known for its frequent earthquakes, but less so for its volcanic history – despite the fact that the most recent eruption in the state occurred just 100 years ago. Nearly every kind of volcanic landform is represented in California, from the stratocone of Mount Shasta to the lava domes of the Mono-Inyo Craters to the steam explosion features of Ubehebe Craters. To explore this wealth of geologic phenomena, use some of the USGS's newly published and upcoming volcanic field trip guides!

Several new and updated field guides for the 2017 Scientific Assembly of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior (IAVCEI) in Portland, Oregon showcase California's volcanoes. Upcoming publications for Medicine Lake, Mount Shasta, Lassen Peak, Long Valley and Mammoth Mountain will provide easy to follow and informative field trips. The new collection of guidebooks can be found at the USGS Publications Warehouse and summarizes decades of advances in understanding volcanic and tectonic processes of western North America.