Link to USGS home page.
USGS Open-File Report 2005-1164
Version 1.1

An Assessment of Volcanic Threat and Monitoring Capabilities in the United States:
Framework for a National Volcano Early Warning System

Mount St. Helens, Washington, reawakens on October 1, 2004. USGS photo.

DOWNLOAD the report [2.8-MB PDF file]


A National Volcano Early Warning System --NVEWS -- is being formulated by the Consortium of U.S. Volcano Observatories (CUSVO) to establish a proactive, fully integrated, national-scale monitoring effort that ensures the most threatening volcanoes in the United States are properly monitored in advance of the onset of unrest and at levels commensurate with the threats posed. Volcanic threat is the combination of hazards (the destructive natural phenomena produced by a volcano) and exposure (people and property at risk from the hazards).

The United States has abundant volcanoes, and over the past 25 years the Nation has experienced a diverse range of the destructive phenomena that volcanoes can produce. Hazardous volcanic activity will continue to occur, and -- because of increasing population, increasing development, and expanding national and international air traffic over volcanic regions -- the exposure of human life and enterprise to volcano hazards is increasing. Fortunately, volcanoes exhibit precursory unrest that if detected and analyzed in time allows eruptions to be anticipated and communities at risk to be forewarned with reliable information in sufficient time to implement response plans and mitigation measures.

In the 25 years since the cataclysmic eruption of Mount St. Helens, scientific and technological advances in volcanology have been used to develop and test models of volcanic behavior and to make reliable forecasts of expected activity a reality. Until now, these technologies and methods have been applied on an ad hoc basis to volcanoes showing signs of activity. However, waiting to deploy a robust, modern monitoring effort until a hazardous volcano awakens and an unrest crisis begins is socially and scientifically unsatisfactory because it forces scientists, civil authorities, citizens, and businesses into “playing catch up” with the volcano, trying to get instruments and civil-defense measures in place before the unrest escalates and the situation worsens. Inevitably, this manner of response results in our missing crucial early stages of the volcanic unrest and hampers our ability to accurately forecast events. Restless volcanoes do not always progress to eruption; nevertheless, monitoring is necessary in such cases to minimize either over-reacting, which costs money, or under-reacting, which may cost lives.

FirstGov button  Take Pride in America button