Volcano observatory leaps forward into the digital age

Cleveland Volcano on a clear day (From Alaska Volcano Observatory)
Cleveland Volcano on a clear day (From Alaska Volcano Observatory)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — The Alaska Volcano Observatory will receive $12 million to upgrade the analog equipment it's currently using to monitor volcanoes. The current instruments have been in place for a long time.

“The seismic network up here is basically using the same instrumentation we were using in 1970,” says Tom Murray, Director of the USGS Volcano Science Center. “It gives us the opportunity to upgrade the seismic network, the monitoring, the instruments, the data coming in. We can upgrade that to the modern digital world, so the data becomes much more rich, much better than it currently is.”

Murray says researchers will take that expanded data and improve forecasts and warnings. He also says that may not happen this year.

“What usually happens when you get an upgrade like this with this richer data set, is that the real payoff is in another maybe three years, four years as the research community, including like up at the university, starts looking at it and starts seeing things in the data that they've never seen before,” Murray said.

The AVO monitors 33 of Alaska's 52 active volcanoes. Murray says the ones without monitoring equipment are just too difficult and expensive to reach.

There are five volcano observatories in the United States, located in Alaska, Hawaii, California, the Cascades and Yellowstone. The Alaska Volcano Observatory is a joint program of the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, and the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys.

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