June 1, 2008 Geologists combined research from around the country with Google Maps to show where volcanoes could erupt in the United States. The website is constantly updated to reflect the current status of individual volcanoes, and color codes any warnings to indicate severity.
Millions of people in the United States live every day with the threat of a volcano close by. If it erupts, it could be disastrous -- not only for the people on the ground, but also for the planes flying above. But a new website could help warn them both if disaster strikes.
In 1989, a plane full of passengers flew into a cloud, which stalled all four engines! It's not the weather to blame, but a volcano! Ash plumes can bring down planes and send entire towns running for cover. Now, there's a new way for emergency managers and the people who live in the shadows of a volcano to know if danger is on its way.
"We're looking at about 170 that could potentially erupt," Dina Venezky, Ph.D., a geologist for the United States Geological Survey's volcano hazards program in Menlo Park, Calif., told Ivanhoe. She is launching a website combining google maps with research from around the country, to show all the volcanoes in the United States that could erupt, updating their status and providing information about possible hazards.
"Most of the volcanoes are around the ring of fire, which means that they're along the coast of the western U.S. and then heading up through Alaska," Dr. Venezky explains. The website shows not only volcanic activity, but also seismic activity and changes in the gas chemistry, which can indicate a potential eruption. The warnings are color coded. Green … everything is normal. Yellow … there is some activity. Orange … even more activity. "For Mount St. Helens, there's a dome that was growing and has paused," Dr. Venezky says.
The threat is real. Just last month gases from Kilauea in Hawaii forced two thousand people from their homes. "Kilauea in Hawaii is going through new phases of activity and so there's ash coming out; there's lava entering the ocean," Dr. Venesky explains.
Knowing when and how fierce a volcano is erupting can save thousands from lava flows, avalanches of hot volcanic debris, gas and large clouds of ash -- all potentially life-threatening. Researchers hope information at http://www.volcanoes.usgs.gov will give everyone the tools they need to be prepared on the ground and in the air.
Pilots were able to get the plane KLM 867 back on track and everyone on board was safe.
WHAT DOES THE MAP SHOW? The USGS Volcano Hazards Program combines maps and information about hazards to allow emergency managers and the public to visualize the status of volcanoes around the world. The map-based interface allows users to understand the danger posed by each volcano in relationship to the people and places surrounding it.
THE RING OF FIRE: Over 75 percent of the world’s volcanoes fall within the so-called “Ring of Fire,” circling from South America, to Alaska, to Japan, and on to New Zealand. Most volcanoes are located at the boundary of tectonic plates, which are massive slabs of the Earth’s crust that move slowly over what is called the asthenosphere. In the Pacific region, a great number of volcanoes occur where one plate dives below another. As the plate drops deeper it sets in a motion the process that creates lava. The molten lava then begins to rise through the solid rock above and create volcanoes.
The American Geophysical Union and the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology contributed to the information contained in the video portion of this report.