The USGS cited also the threat of volcanic ash plumes to commercial and military planes. Air routes connect Saipan and Guam to Asia and the rest of the Pacific Rim, as well as Northeast Asia to Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and New Zealand.
Worldwide from 1970 to 2000 more than 90 commercial jets have flown into clouds of volcanic ash, causing damage to those aircraft, most notably engine failure, according to airplane maker Boeing.
Volcanic ash plumes can rise to cruise altitudes in a matter of minutes after an eruption, Quick said. Winds carry plumes thousands of miles from the volcanoes, he explained, and then the plumes are difficult or impossible to distinguish from normal atmospheric clouds.
Monitoring by remote sensing allows USGS scientists to alert the International Civil Aviation Organization's nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers as part of ICAO's International Airways Volcano Watch program. The centers then can issue early warnings of volcanic ash clouds to pilots.
"Monitoring on the ground gives early warning when an eruption begins, as well as an indication that an eruption might be imminent," Quick said. "The contribution by the USGS and its university partners for volcano monitoring is to provide that earliest warning or even a pre-eruption indication that a volcano is approaching eruption so that the volcanic ash advisory centers can get the word out and alerts can be issued."
The USGS objective is for infrasound on Saipan, four seismometers
|Contact: Kim Cobb|
Southern Methodist University