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Review of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program 7 Principal Conclusions and Recommendations This chapter summarizes the principal conclusions and recommendations developed elsewhere in this report. Major conclusions are printed in italics and recommendations in bold. The VHP is comprised of a dedicated scientific and technical staff that has a wealth of practical experience, coupled with good theoretical understanding of underlying volcanic and hydrologic processes. To help society prepare for and deal with the effects of volcanic eruptions, the VHP uses five interrelated approaches: (1) long-term hazard assessment, (2) monitoring baseline measurements that allow premonitory changes to be recognized, (3) crisis response when a volcano is erupting, (4) topical studies of geologic processes that allow for better understanding of the causes and consequences of volcanic hazards, and (5) communicating with civil authorities and the surrounding communities about the results of their studies. These five approaches all aim to help society respond to the dangers posed by volcanoes. Another way to view these activities is to consider a continuum of three overlapping types of societal response to eruptions: research (knowledge acquisition), operations (knowledge application), and outreach (knowledge translation). Research provides the basic information and concepts that underlie the various methods of volcano data collection and interpretation. The committee was asked to address two questions: (1) Do the activities, priorities, and expertise of the VHP meet appropriate scientific goals? (2) Are the scientific investigations and research results throughout the program effectively integrated and applied to achieve hazard mitigation? The committee’s views with respect to these questions are summarized below and at the end of Chapters 2, 3, and 4. Basic research in the VHP, although reasonably well integrated, is being threatened by budgetary and personnel constraints, which may diminish the program’s ability to meet appropriate scientific goals. If
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Review of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program these problems are not solved, the program will likely be forced to reduce levels of in-house basic research and/or to increase collaboration with non-USGS scientists. Hazard assessment, while traditionally strong in geologic mapping, radiometric age dating, and related activities, has to be strengthened in modeling and probabilistic approaches if the program is to continue to meet appropriate scientific goals. Existing hazard assessment activities at individual volcano observatories are effectively integrated and applied to hazard mitigation issues. The one-volcano, one-scientist projects under way at some volcanoes, although scientifically appropriate, may not be effectively integrated with each other or with the VHP as a whole. Continuing budgetary pressures place four types of constraints on the VHP’s ability to monitor volcanoes. (1) Aging equipment is not replaced soon enough (or at all), increasing the chances of failure during a crisis. (2) The VHP’s traditional role as the developer and tester of new monitoring equipment and techniques is jeopardized. (3) The number and extent of regular instrumented surveys, which are crucial for the success of any monitoring program, are restricted. (4) Personnel familiar with new techniques are not hired. If the current situation is not reversed, the VHP may not be able to field the best instruments or to maintain its traditional high standards for monitoring. These issues apply to varying degrees to all of the monitoring methods used by the VHP, and if they are not addressed in the near future, the program runs the risk of not being able to meet appropriate scientific goals. On the other hand, the monitoring methods currently employed in the VHP seem to be well integrated and applied to achieve hazards mitigation. Crisis response procedures at VHP observatories are well integrated and applied to hazards mitigation. The VDAP, while evoking strong praise from the committee, has to be strengthened, in both personnel and budget. The committee urges wider involvement of VHP personnel in VDAP activities, which—besides providing depth to the VDAP—would permit a wider circle of scientists to gain firsthand experience with volcanoes in crisis. Data gathered during international volcano crises must be better archived and, where appropriate, published. The committee realizes that data acquisition and use can be a sensitive issue with foreign governments and organizations but urges that protocols be explored to improve the ways in which data from one overseas crisis might be better integrated and applied to the next crisis. Existing outreach products of the VHP were judged by the committee to be of
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Review of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program high quality and effective in mitigating volcano hazards. This effectiveness can be increased by developing ways for the VHP to retain proceeds from the sale of its products and by removing impediments that limit the involvement of midcareer VHP personnel in their preparation and dissemination. RESEARCH It is difficult to separate the contributions to basic volcanological knowledge made by VHP scientists from those made by their colleagues in other parts of the USGS, other government agencies, universities, other countries, and the private sector. Nonetheless, throughout much of the second half of the twentieth Century, members of the present-day USGS Volcano Hazards Program were national if not global leaders in the formulation of ideas about how volcanoes work. The committee did not review individual VHP research projects, nor did it conduct an in-depth assessment of the research component of the program. However, the committee feels strongly that USGS management must ensure that most, if not all, basic research projects are directed toward program goals. Such assurance can come from internal USGS programmatic oversight and from careful structuring and enforcement of the annual performance plans of individual research scientists. Basic research in the VHP is being threatened by budgetary and personnel constraints, which may diminish the program’s ability to meet appropriate scientific goals. One of the most important long-range issues that the VHP must face is deciding how central in-house basic research will be to its mission in the future. Such research is also being done at universities, government labs, and non-U.S. institutions. Thus, one might argue that the VHP could forgo its basic research activities without this having a major impact on the state of knowledge of volcanic processes. On the other hand, eliminating this program element altogether would likely damage the intellectual vitality of the VHP and make it more difficult (if not impossible) for the program to hire topflight young scientists. The committee believes that if the VHP is faced with continuing budget shortfalls, it could elect to reduce fundamental research activities and redirect scarce resources to monitoring and crisis response functions, which it is uniquely positioned to do (see Chapters 2 and 3). However, these savings would come at a high cost. The ability of
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Review of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program the VHP to respond to volcanic crises would be compromised by a lack of expertise in hazard assessment or volcano process studies. One possible solution would be for VHP members to collaborate more on research projects with scientists outside the USGS, particularly those from universities and from laboratories of other government agencies. More active collaborations, coupled with an extramural grant program for academic researchers overseen partly or completely by the VHP, would help ensure that more investigations that are directly relevant to the program’s mission would be carried out. HAZARD ASSESSMENT Volcano hazard assessment aims to determine where and when future volcano hazards will occur and their potential severity. This kind of appraisal provides a long-term view of the locations and probabilities of large-scale eruptions and related phenomena, such as volcanic debris avalanches and tsunamis. The extensive range of hazards that must be evaluated requires the combined knowledge of a broad array of scientists, including geologists, hydrologists, geotechnical engineers, atmospheric physicists, and statisticians. Because assessment is inherently interdisciplinary, the VHP needs access to a very diverse set of expertise, either within its own ranks or through collaborations with outside groups. Geologic mapping, stratigraphy, geochronology, and physical volcanology provide the backbone of volcanic hazard assessments by revealing past trends in eruption timing, volume, and explosivity. Historically the USGS has done an excellent job of incorporating geologic data into its assessments. The committee commends VHP efforts to integrate findings of geologic studies into volcanic hazard assessments. An ongoing challenge is to more effectively quantify geologic data in ways that optimize their use in such assessments. Although mapping and dating of volcanic deposits can provide a good framework for hazard assessment, mechanical models of physical, chemical, and hydrologic processes help refine forecasts of the types and magnitudes of future eruptions. Both numerical models and laboratory simulations can relate the boundary conditions on a volcano to the likely consequences of any incipient eruptive activity. Although there has been some VHP participation in the development of these models, especially those related to hydrologic and sedimentologic phenomena, most have
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Review of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program been created by non-USGS scientists. The committee encourages the VHP to include more theoretical modeling of volcanic phenomena in its hazard assessments. Because it is impossible to predict eruptive behavior with certainty, particularly for dormant volcanoes, most hazard assessments are inherently probabilistic in nature. Use of three approaches to hazard assessment—mapping and dating, theoretical modeling, and probability calculations—by the VHP reflects the training of its participants. Probabilistic approaches are relatively recent additions to the VHP assessment repertoire, but they have received more attention lately because of their obvious utility in communicating with civil defense authorities and the general public. The committee strongly encourages the VHP to develop a balanced assessment program that takes advantage of the full range of techniques available to volcanologists today. Assessment priorities vary from observatory to observatory, reflecting local differences in the nature of the volcanic hazard and the expertise of the resident scientists and technicians. Volcanic ash interaction with jet aircraft poses the greatest danger from Alaskan volcanoes, because ingestion of ash can result in engine damage or failure. Although responsibilities for monitoring and crisis response in Alaska are shared among the VHP, the NWS, and the FAA, only AVO is capable of (1) establishing the historical context of future explosive eruptive activity, (2) providing advance warning of an impending eruption, and (3) conducting ground monitoring that can confirm an eruption is actually in progress. Because of the nature of these dangers, AVO has placed greater emphasis on monitoring and crisis response than on long-term hazard assessment. Only a few of the Alaskan volcanoes have even rudimentary hazard maps. The expense and logistical difficulties associated with access in Alaska preclude the kind of comprehensive mapping strategy carried out by CVO and HVO. Recent AVO-coordinated mapping campaigns at selected Alaskan volcanoes carried out by teams of USGS, other government, and university geoscientists have expanded the coverage of hazard assessment products. The committee concludes that basic yet rapid assessment of the eruptive histories of as many of the Aleutian volcanoes as possible is necessary to guide prioritization of the placement of instruments used to provide warnings to pilots and other nearby infrastructure. If faced with a continued flat budget, the VHP must find ways to carry out its mission more efficiently. The committee recommends that
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Review of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program the VHP initiate a form of collaborative prioritization with respect to hazard assessment. This might include a broader application of the team approach now being used at AVO and CVO. In addition to prioritization, volcano hazard assessment within the VHP would be improved by greater consistency of data collection, storage, presentation, and interpretation. MONITORING To be effective, monitoring must be done before, during, and after eruptions and must be integrated with carefully designed communication schemes. It requires the type of long-term commitment of time and resources that academic and industry scientists generally cannot make. Furthermore, the quality of monitoring depends on the amount of experience of the participating scientists. For these reasons, the VHP is uniquely qualified within the United States to carry out volcano monitoring. The combined seismic-deformation approach, which has traditionally been the core of VHP monitoring, tracks phenomena to provide ample warnings of impending eruptions on most volcanoes. The report Priorities for the Volcano Hazards Program 1999–2003 (USGS, 1999) argues for an expansion of some existing networks and upgrading of overall instrument capability. The committee endorses these plans because they are directly applicable to the scientific goals of the VHP and will help to achieve hazard mitigation. Although there are pros and cons for making data available on a real-time or near real-time basis, the committee believes that the advantages of public access outweigh the disadvantages. The committee therefore recommends that VHP observatories take measures to make their data available on a near real-time basis. The committee was favorably impressed by AVO’s attempts to install seismic networks (either large or small) on as many Aleutian volcanoes as possible. The committee believes that a team approach for monitoring and studying Aleutian volcanoes from various perspectives should be expanded in the near future so that AVO can provide airlines and other constituents with adequate advance warning of impending eruptions.
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Review of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program The collection of volcanic gas data is another essential monitoring tool that complements seismic and geodetic information. The committee was disturbed to learn of the paucity of gas geochemical expertise and utilization within the VHP. The program should reestablish in-house capacity to use and develop both conventional and novel methods for measuring and interpreting volcanic gases. New ground-based instruments for remote sensing of CO2 and other gases are currently being developed outside the USGS. These instruments have major technical advantages over existing approaches used by the VHP. The committee believes that VHP scientists should be in the forefront of such efforts, either by obtaining this equipment themselves or by actively collaborating with groups who are developing these tools. Although less prominent in the public’s awareness than lava flows or pyroclastic phenomena, mixtures of volcanic debris and water are among the most deadly products of volcanoes. Detection of volcanic debris flows (lahars) close to their sources can provide timely warnings to people in downstream areas. Over the next five years, the VHP plans to improve and field-test remote eruption detection stations for possible deployment in the western Aleutians and the Cascades. The committee supports this goal because it is relevant to the VHP mission to mitigate volcano hazards. The VHP should also explore ways to better monitor groundwater flow and pore pressures within volcanic edifices. This type of information could help establish the potential for phreatic and phreatomagmatic activity, sector collapse, and internal pressure buildups capable of generating explosive blasts. Such hydrologic monitoring warrants greater attention by the VHP. The incorporation of glacier budget studies as part of VHP monitoring on ice-clad volcanoes would also contribute to this goal. Another VHP goal that the committee fully supports is the continued development of near real-time remote sensing of volcanoes and their associated ash clouds in areas that are difficult to access. Most of the VHP’s remote sensing work is centered at AVO, where satellite data are used to identify thermal anomalies and track eruption plumes and where inclement weather makes traditional observations of volcanoes more difficult. Remote sensing data are becoming integrated only slowly into the monitoring strategies of the other VHP observatories. A new generation of EOS instruments is now providing potentially useful information for volcano monitoring (e.g., data on thermal regimes, SO2 gas emissions, deformation, and digital topography). The committee
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Review of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program believes strongly that the VHP should take advantage of this opportunity to the fullest extent possible. In addition, the committee urges the USGS to work with NASA to argue in support of an InSAR satellite specifically designed for natural hazards monitoring. The committee also considered the potential value to volcano monitoring of two existing remote sensing programs based outside the VHP, the Hazard Support System and the Center for Integration of Natural Disaster Information. The classified nature of the data and the fact that military priorities control which observations are made mean that VHP personnel have limited access and must work through the DOD. This adds an extra bureaucratic layer of communication and interpretation, slowing responsiveness and potentially reducing the effectiveness of the monitoring effort. Second, these programs are very expensive. Thus, the CINDI and HSS initiatives run the risk of draining sparse resources away from the VHP for questionable returns. For these reasons, the committee cautions against greater involvement with CINDI and HSS unless and until better assurances can be obtained about data access and cost containment. A potentially less problematic alternative would be to establish closer ties with the nonclassified EOS program run by NASA. Many volcanoes in the Cascades and several in Alaska lie within wilderness areas and other lands managed by the U.S. National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. This situation creates a conflict between the need for effective monitoring in order to serve public interests and the desire to minimize mechanized access to the areas in question. High-level administrators within the USGS and other organizations must actively campaign to gain recognition that monitoring efforts require special attention and priority. CRISIS RESPONSE The transition from monitored volcanic activity to a volcanic crisis has as much to do with potential societal impact as with the nature of the eruptive phenomena. Within the United States, the USGS is expressly and uniquely empowered by the Stafford Act (Public Law 93–288) to issue timely warning of potential volcanic disasters to affected communities and civil authorities. Although not an explicitly mandated part of
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Review of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program its mission, the VHP has also developed an international crisis response capability, the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program. Often, the most valuable asset for a scientist responding to a crisis is relevant prior experience. Because its members are exposed to a wide variety of eruption styles and settings, VDAP offers the most effective way to prepare VHP staff for future domestic crises. The present system for selecting non-VDAP members of the VHP to join foreign deployments appears too haphazard. The VHP should implement a more formal mechanism for participation in VDAP to see that as many people as possible are exposed to this type of training. Another missed opportunity for expanding the training potential of foreign volcanic crisis responses comes from the inability of VDAP members to archive their observations. The success of VDAP should be measured not only in terms of mitigation of eruption impact, but also in terms of how well information and knowledge are disseminated in anticipation of future crises. This change of strategy might ensure greater access to data that could be used to prepare future crisis teams. A related programmatic issue is how staff members balance their responsibilities. Even if assistance were provided for archiving and distributing data from volcanic crises, individual scientists still have to incorporate their experiences into the published scientific literature. The stated VHP goal of carefully documenting actual volcanic crises and responses is extremely important if the maximum information is to be obtained from any given eruption and is strongly endorsed by the committee. This issue demands close monitoring, coordination, and allocation of staff time by the relevant scientists in charge to ensure that such information is forthcoming. In addition to the valuable staff training opportunities provided by VDAP missions, foreign responses also allow new hardware and software to be evaluated under crisis conditions. The technical development of new instrumentation requires field tests for accurate calibration. A consequence of continuing tight VHP budgets has been the growing obsolescence of much of the equipment used in crisis response. One way in which the VHP can extend its equipment budget is to partner with manufacturers and other government agencies that design new instruments. The committee encourages the VHP and VDAP to work more closely with NASA, DOE, DOD, and NOAA, as well as with NSF-funded consortia such as UNAVCO and IRIS, in the development of new in-
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Review of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program strumentation and approaches suitable for detecting the conditions within erupting volcanoes. The current level of VDAP funding allows a maximum of one deployment at a time, leading to occasional difficult decisions about priorities when multiple crises occur almost simultaneously. The committee unconditionally supports the stated VHP desire to expand the size of the VDAP. PROGRAMMATIC AND INSTITUTIONAL ISSUES Currently the VHP has a large number of capable scientists. However, the almost total failure of the program to hire more than a token number of new personnel over the past 15 years has created a crisis of continuity in which much of the VHP’s accumulated knowledge is in danger of being lost because of upcoming retirements. Overlap of new staff with existing staff is essential for orderly transition of duties and transfer of knowledge, not only of volcanology and associated hydrology, but also of procedures for communicating with users of information. With the loss of personnel and no replacements, the domestic response capability is likely to collapse and programs such as VDAP could disappear. The committee believes that if the VHP does not begin to hire new staff immediately, the program will not be able to maintain response readiness. The committee suggests that the VHP begin planning for rejuvenation of its work force. This exercise should build upon the program’s strategic plan and should take into account the new areas of expertise that will be needed in the future. The importance of technicians to the VHP in many ways equals that of scientists. These individuals have highly eclectic backgrounds and in many cases have participated in several decades’ worth of crisis response, especially as VDAP has expanded. The lack of hiring in this area seriously threatens the well-being of the program. Even if the number of VHP employees increases over the next few years, it will probably be insufficient to keep up with new techniques and with the increased flow of scientific knowledge that threatens to overwhelm the already overworked VHP staff. The resulting shortage means that the program will have to either reduce the scope of its mission or increase the pool of workers who can help them accomplish their goals. Because of this situation, the committee concludes that the VHP can no longer
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Review of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program accomplish all of its goals through in-house activities. The committee recommends that to accomplish its goals, the VHP increase its coordination and collaboration with researchers from other parts of the USGS, other federal agencies, academic institutions, and industry. The committee concludes that there is insufficient integration and communication between the VHP and other government entities involved in volcano hazards. The VHP should take steps to ensure that USGS management realizes that the overall scientific goals of the program would be enhanced by such interactions. The committee recommends that the VHP improve outside communication and better integrate its programs with those of other relevant organizations and government agencies. One place where this coordination appears to be working well is in the separation between the assessment of volcanic hazards carried out by the VHP and the development of responses to those hazards conducted by local civil defense officials. The VHP’s Five-Year Science Plan for 1999 to 2003 outlines a wide array of program activities, ranging from volcano monitoring and crisis response to scientific outreach and information dissemination. If the VHP continues to be faced with flat budgets and limited staff growth, it must prioritize more clearly among these activities and see that they are consistent with stated program goals. The committee urges the VHP to put in place a more formal mechanism for prioritizing its activities and seeing that they are consistent with stated program goals. Because most staff members of the VHP report to one of the scientists in charge of the four volcano observatories, these four individuals have special responsibilities for setting, assessing, enforcing, and coordinating prioritization across the program. In the observatory environment, volcano monitoring, hazard assessment, and communication with civil authorities may be most important, but during periods of volcano unrest and newly evolving activity, volcano crisis response assumes special priority. A major issue that underlies any discussion of VHP priority setting and accountability is the lack of a clear and consistent management structure. Depending on his or her location and their inclination, an individual VHP scientist or technician might report to one of the four observatory scientists in charge, to the head of the Western Region in Menlo Park, to the local branch chief in Flagstaff, to the VHP coordinator in Reston, or to one of various administrators within the
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Review of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program Water Resources Division. The main drawback of the current complex structure is that it creates an institutional barrier to the emergence of strong leaders. This lack, in turn, makes individual staff members unsure about who sets their priorities and makes the VHP as a whole less influential within the prioritization and budget-setting processes of the USGS and the Department of the Interior. An important aspect of priority setting relates to the timeliness of scientific publication. Scientific publication is an important end product of VHP research, not only for the needs of civil authorities but also for other scientists (both USGS and non-USGS) who benefit from additions to the literature on volcanoes and volcano products. The problem is particularly acute when unpublished studies involve volcano hazard assessments that could have a direct bearing on the safety of people and property. The committee urges that high priority be given to the timeliness of scientific publication. From the late 1960s until Mount St. Helens erupted in May 1980, the GD administrated the VHP and carried out all programmatic investigations. Soon after the Mount St. Helens event, the VHP funded a number of WRD projects, and the two divisions worked together as a single team. In the 1980s, disagreements between the two divisions prompted the USGS director to partition the VHP into two parts. This division in effect created two programs, each staffed and operated separately, based on different floors of the same building. It is questionable whether the scientific investigations and results throughout the program are integrated as effectively as they could be. The VHP is a USGS program and should be operated in ways that foster seamless relationships among staff within the GD, and WRD. The committee recommends that USGS management integrate the GD and WRD parts of the VHP. Standardization of data management protocols and formats across observatories and VDAP deployments is essential to improve access for the scientific community and others. The committee believes that the potential benefits of public access outweigh the possible drawbacks of data misuse. The committee recommends that the VHP set standards for documentation, archiving, and access policies, including the length of the proprietary period.
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