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Volcano studies get boost


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POSTED: Monday, August 17, 2009

The U.S. Geological Survey plans an ambitious $3.3 million program to upgrade aging monitoring and telemetry equipment at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

The USGS received $15.2 million in stimulus funds to improve monitoring, analysis and distribution of eruption information at the nation's highest-risk volcanic areas, including Wyoming, Alaska, Northwest California and a network covering the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Considerable time and effort has been spent to improve Big Island volcano monitoring with more and newer instruments, Steve Brantley, observatory deputy scientist-in-charge, said in a telephone interview.

But since he joined the observatory in 1997, he said, “;there hasn't been this opportunity all at once to upgrade and improve capabilities. It will be very helpful for improving the capability of scientists to monitor and track activity on the Big Island and provide immediate updates and information about the status of volcanoes.”;

Brantley said the observatory has been trying to replace instruments; while some are new, others are 20 to 30 years old. He said three things are planned to improve monitoring capability and understanding of eruption processes, including:

» Improving the seismic network of instruments and telemetry, allowing scientists to record and track earthquake activity.

» Upgrading instruments measuring the deformation of the ground or changes to the earth's surface that occur as magma moves laterally or vertically toward the surface to erupt and the movement that occurs along faults as a result of moderate to strong earthquake activity.

» Installing a dense meteorological monitoring and sulfur dioxide network around the summit of the volcano to try to develop a forecasting method for vog conditions.

There are a few instruments now around the summit that can detect concentration of sulfur dioxide in parts per million, Brantley said. “;We're looking to install many more as a way to get a handle on how that gas dissipates under different wind conditions.”;

He said the observatory's Web cameras and infrared cameras also will be improved and some new ones installed in key locations.

Kilauea has been erupting for 26 years, and nearby Mauna Loa is certain to have another eruption “;although the time frame is difficult to forecast,”; the USGS said in announcing the volcano funding.

“;Mauna Loa eruptions typically produce fast-moving flows of lava that could cut transportation arteries or inundate communities with lava in a matter of hours,”; the agency said.

Observatory scientists said in a recent weekly newsletter that they are “;forecasting lava hazards with increasing accuracy. ... Lava, however, isn't the only thing flowing out of Hawaiian volcanoes,”; they said, referring to the doubling of Kilauea's sulfur dioxide emissions early last year.

UH uses $2.09M grant for ocean observation

The University of Hawaii will administer $2.09 million in grants awarded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to a network of ocean observation posts in Hawaii and the Pacific islands.

Among the goals of the NOAA Integrated Ocean Observing System are improving predictions of climate change and weather and their effects on coastal communities and the nation; enhancing maritime safety and efficiency; and mitigating the effects of natural hazards.

Toward those ends, the system taps a network of tide gauges and data-collecting buoys, aircraft, satellites and ships.

Directing the Pacific area effort will be Brian Taylor, dean of the UH School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, NOAA said last week in an announcement.