Alaska Volcano Observatory plans to continue volcanic monitor upgrades

Augustine Volcano
Augustine Volcano(ALLAN LERNER, AVO/USGS)
Published: Feb. 16, 2021 at 7:15 PM AKST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2021 at 7:33 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In 2020, the Alaska Volcano Observatory saw the effects of the pandemic, just like everyone else. But this year, they hope to have a busy summer field season.

The AVO hopes to finish most of the work converting volcanic monitoring stations from older analog technology to more modern digital sensors and telemetry, John Power, a geophysicist with the AVO, said. The project started in 2018.

“We’re in the middle of a very ambitious conversion,” Power said.

Pandemic precautions held up the work last summer.

One of the AVO’s principal goals is to give warnings when a volcano is about to erupt, especially to local communities, the fishing industry and to the airlines — including cargo carriers.

“These ash clouds are very, very hazardous to the operation of aircraft,” Power said.

The monitoring system upgrades will be to volcanoes from Mount Spurr in Southcentral Alaska to as far as Kiska Volcano near the end of the Aleutian chain, Power said.

“This will allow us to do our job in a much more expeditious way, and hopefully provide both longer term warnings of eruptions as they’re getting ready to occur, and then more accurate warnings once they do begin,” Power said.

The upgraded stations give more information on the individual volcanoes.

“In addition to seismic data, we’ll be adding some infrasound sensors to many of our stations. This listens for very long period noises that the volcanoes make when they explode, things that our ears actually can’t hear. But our sensors are able to pick it up.”

There will also be more webcam views so scientists can see the volcanoes as they are erupting.

The AVO might also add gas sensors. “We’re going to do some new experimental work with that, as well as potentially putting in some thermal monitoring equipment at several other volcanoes,” Power said.

The AVO has pandemic protocols in place for their fieldwork.

“This year, because we’re feeling a little more confident, we’re going to try and get a lot more work done and try and move things forward a little bit faster, in spite of the pandemic,” Power said. “We’re gonna do our best to get out there and get the job done.”

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