Keeping a pulse on volcanoes near far

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first_imgo May is Volcano Awareness Month in Washington. The state has five volcanic cones that are considered active:Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker and Glacier Peak.The Cascades Volcano Observatory’s name suggests an entirely Northwest focus. The file cabinets in John Ewert’s office suggest otherwise.A handwritten label on one drawer simply reads “Colombia.” Another points to the southwest Pacific. Ecuador. Peru. Each refers to a far-away place the observatory’s scientists have watched over the years, often traveling to support local authorities when a potentially dangerous volcano starts acting up.Of course, Cascades Volcano Observatory scientists also keep a constant, close eye on the mountains in their own backyard. To walk the halls of the observatory’s Vancouver headquarters is to be surrounded by a visual history of each volcano, particularly the Northwest’s most famous, Mount St. Helens. This month, Washington marks Volcano Awareness Month as the anniversary of the mountain’s catastrophic May 18, 1980, eruption approaches.“It really started modern volcanology,” said Ewert, the observatory’s scientist-in-charge.When the Cascades are relatively quiet — as they are now — volcanoes generally don’t land high on people’s list of day-to-day concerns, said John Pallister, chief of the observatory’s Volcano Disaster Assistance Program. But that doesn’t mean communities shouldn’t be ready, he said. An active volcano may only give a few days’ warning before waking up.“It’s important to have established monitoring systems before a crisis,” Pallister said. “That can be a tough sell if there hasn’t been a crisis in a while.”The Cascades Volcano Observatory is one of only five volcanic observatories operated by the U.S. Geological Survey. It and other facilities combine a variety of disciplines to keep a finger on the pulse of mountains near and far, and advance ongoing research to better understand them. Among the Vancouver office’s 55 or so staff are geologists, seismologists, hydrologists, petrologists and others.last_img

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