The network is the volcano

US Geological Survey to spend $15.2 million on tech upgrades to volcano warning systems.

High-precision GPS antenna
Getting a lot of information out of one of the world's most dangerous places - an active volcano -- is no easy task. But the US government today said it is looking to spend $15.2 million to make gathering such data via wireless sensor networks and other high-tech processes a whole lot easier.

Specifically, the US Geological Survey is planning to use $15.2 million of its American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to bolster the Volcano Hazards Program (VHP) which handles volcano monitoring and the analysis and distribution of eruption information at the five volcano observatories that cover Wyoming, Alaska, Hawaii, the Northwest, California, as well as the network that covers the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Uh-oh, one of our satellites is missing 

Turns out the US Geological Survey may need some stimulus money to work on its satellite system.  The agency said today that on Aug. 13 its Landsat 5 tumbled out of control and power was at a critical level. The spacecraft has been stabilized after the USGS Landsat Flight Operations Team initiated recovery operations. Power is still at a critical level, and the extent of damage is yet to be determined. Imaging operations are suspended until further notice, the agency stated. Landsat 5 was launched in 1984 and designed to last 3 years with a possible extension to five years. Incredibly it is still a valuable resource and by early 2009, it had completed over 129,000 orbits and acquired over 700,000 individual scenes.

NASA too has stepped up its volcano research.  In July the space agency dropped 12 spiders" on the Mount St. Helens volcano.  Each pod contains a seismometer, a GPS receiver, an infrared sounder to sense explosions, and a lightning detector. The pods form a virtual wireless network and communicate with each other and a NASA satellite called Earth Observing-1, or EO-1, according to

The need to develop more sophisticated volcano monitoring systems is clear: The United States and its territories contain 169 geologically active volcanoes, of which 54 volcanoes are a very high or high threat to public safety, the agency stated. Aside from their obvious impact on the ground, volcano eruptions also pose a serious hazard to domestic and/or international aviation because of the ash clouds they create.

As populations increase, areas near volcanoes are being developed and aviation routes are increasing. As a result, more people and property are at risk from volcanic activity. Future eruptions could affect hundreds of thousands of people, the Geological Survey stated.  And that fact is at the heart of the infusion of money into the Volcano Hazards Program.

Monitoring volcanoes requires networks of geophysical instruments on volcanoes transmitting data to observatories, coupled with the capabilities to detect ash, volcanic gas, and hot spots with satellite imagery; to measure gas and acquire thermal imagery from aircraft; and to understand past behavior of the volcanoes and what human activities and infrastructure are at risk.

Volcano monitoring is only effective if linked to rapid means for communication of hazard information to communities, businesses, government agencies, and the public, the Survey stated. Funds will be used to modernize instrumentation and information systems to state-of-the-art, providing the necessary tools to communicate hazard information quickly to those who need it, the agency stated.

Specific technology improvements are expected to include:

  • Install upgrades to real-time monitoring networks at Alaskan volcanoes while working collaboratively with other Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) field parties. Procure or assemble new instrumentation such as infrasound sensors as appropriate. 
  • Develop and implement web-based methods and techniques to disseminate AVO warning messages and deliver to the public data and information derived from AVO's real-time data acquisition and processing systems. Systems and tools will be compatible with AVO public web site. 
  • Develop new hardware and software systems to enable more rapid dissemination of value-added satellite remote sensing data and imagery to the public, AVO cooperators such as the National Weather Service, and customers interested in the dispersal of volcanic ash. 
  • Obtain high-quality, high-accuracy. Light Detection and Ranging or LiDAR data for select volcanoes. LiDAR is an optical remote sensing technology that measures properties of scattered light to find range and/or other information of a distant target.  Networks of such systems would be part of the upgrade.  
  • Optimize existing regional network seismic stations and telemetry to interface with the Cascades Volcano Observatory's improved backbone telemetry nodes in Washington and Oregon.   
  • Convert of ten existing stations from analog to digital, conversion from single-component to three-components, addition of strong motion accelerometers and in most cases broadband sensors.   
  • Implement software tools for automatic location of earthquakes for instantaneous posting on public-facing servers.  Develop metrics to assess the stability and reliability of these tools to avoid false locations. Such tools should be developed in association with USGS-supported software systems such as Earthworm.

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