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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
California is well-known for its frequent earth
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.