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Republican News

Strengthens volcano monitoring and science to help keep communities, travelers safe

U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, have introduced legislation to improve the nation’s volcano monitoring and early warning capabilities to help keep communities and travelers safe.

The bill, S. 346, strengthens existing volcano monitoring systems, which include the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO), the Cascades Volcano Observatory, and the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, and would unify them into a single connected system called the National Volcano Early Warning System. These observatories monitor, warn, and help protect citizens and travelers from volcanic activity, particularly from high-threat volcanoes. The bill also creates a Volcano Watch Office that will operate 24-hours a day, seven days a week, to provide continuous situational awareness of all active volcanoes in the U.S. and its territories.

“Volcanic activity is a part of everyday life for many Alaskans—just last month we witnessed major and unexpected eruptions at Bogoslof Volcano in the Aleutians, some of which reached a height of 33,000 feet,” Murkowski said. “The Alaska Volcano Observatory was once again instrumental in determining whether this was a public health hazard, and a national system would help supplement AVO’s efforts to monitor the impacts of volcanic activity.”

“Volcano science, forecasts, and warnings are critical to volcano preparedness in the Pacific Northwest. Washington state has five high-threat volcanoes in the Cascade Range, yet there is a gap in monitoring and understanding this volcanic activity. My bill seeks to ensure we have the science and technology needed to help keep communities safe. We need science to guide us,” Cantwell said.

“For the past 34 years, we have experienced first-hand the threat of volcanic activity to our daily lives with the ongoing eruption at Kilauea. As recently as 2014, we had evacuations and damage to critical infrastructure and residences. This bipartisan bill is important as it updates and unifies the five volcano observatories across the nation and creates a grant program that will support critical monitoring research and technology development that will be used to save lives,” Hirono said.

AVO has been underfunded since it was formed in 1988, after an eruption of Mount Augustine. It monitors 29 active volcanoes in Alaska and is one of the busiest observatories in the world. Washington is home to the Cascades Volcano Observatory, which is responsible for monitoring volcanoes in that state, Oregon, and Idaho, including Washington’s Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Adams. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory located on Hawaii Island was the first volcano observatory in the United States and has been monitoring volcanoes, including the two most active, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, for more than a century. Additional and modern monitoring and science is needed to help protect communities living near these volcanoes.

Murkowski and Cantwell are the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction over the Volcano Hazards Program at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Hirono is also a member of the committee. The USGS is the country’s earth science agency and is responsible for volcano hazard monitoring and science.

The text of S. 346 can be found here