Recent eruptions of the Kasatochi, Cleveland, and Okmok Volcanoes in Alaska have highlighted the importance of the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) to the state. In a one-month period starting on 12 July 2008, the three Aleutian Island volcanoes erupted, with ash reaching at times to 35,000 feet. Flying ash presents an obvious hazard to aircraft flying through an eruption plume and volcanoes located near populated communities are a risk to life and property. The AVO used an array of data collected from ground-based seismic and GPS equipment, and space-based weather and radar satellites to track the progress of the summer eruptions.
Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO)
AVO employs an impressive array of technology to monitor and track volcanic activity. At select volcanoes, continuously recording seismometers are installed that transmit information back to the UAFGI. The movement of magma in active volcanoes can be detected seismically. The four volcanoes closest to Anchorage in Cook Inlet were the first to receive monitors due to the risk for nearby populations. The program now monitors more than 20 volcanoes in Cook Inlet, the Aleutian Islands, and on the Alaska Peninsula.
Satellite data can also assist the AVO in its efforts. Space-based instruments can detect temperature increases and thermal anomalies of volcanic vents that can signal future eruption events. Satellites can also track airborne ash plumes to help track and forecast its movement to assist in flight safety planning. In Cook Inlet, AVO is using telemetered GPS receivers on Augustine Volcano to measure its deformation. The program is also using satellite radar interferometry (InSAR) techniques to measure the inflation and deflation of volcanoes.
The Alaska Volcano Observatory is a joint program of three agencies, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAFGI), and the State of Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys (ADGGS), the effort begin in 1988. The AVO uses multiple sources of data to monitor and study volcanoes in the state. Other objectives of the program are to assess potential volcanic hazards and provide timely warnings to the public in an effort to mitigate the impacts of active volcanism.
There are two offices for the AVO in Alaska. One in Anchorage at the USGS that is responsible for disseminating public information and the second in Fairbanks at the UAFGI that collects seismic and satellite data. The program employs some 22 people within the state. The AVO maintains an extensive website where visitors can view images and read about active and historic volcanoes in Alaska.
Copyright © 2013 by Alan Sorum