Senate approves $55 million plan to improve volcanic activity monitoring

SEATTLE -- The U.S. Senate approved a $55 million innovative to help improve volcano monitoring, including the volcanoes around Western Washington.

The money would go toward modifying equipment, increasing efforts, and creating a more unified system.

Something seismologists, like Steve Malone, says could help keep us safer.

On May 16, 1980, Malone worked on Mount St. Helens. Two days later, the volcano erupted.

“It was quite a catastrophe,” he said.

Malone and other researchers worked on the mountain for months before the eruption. They were studying the earthquakes and smaller eruptions, trying to determine what Mount St. Helens was about to do.

“In essence we failed. We estimated something that exceeded what we guessed it would be,” said Malone.

Mount St. Helens' eruption in 1980 killed 57 and the damage extended for miles.

Thirty-eight years later, Malone says, the science has improved greatly, but in some cases the technology remains the same as it was in the '80s.

Malone says some of the seismometers, which measure volcanic activity, have parts that are decades old

“The quality of the data that they produce is really rather poor,” he says.

The problem is that modernizing them costs money. This is a problem lawmakers are looking to fix.

The U.S. Senate approved a bill to spend $55 million between 2018 to 2022 improve volcanic activity monitoring across the country. The money would go to replacing 143 old and outdated seismometers, like the some of the devices Malone says monitor the Cascades.

The money would also create a 24-hour volcano watch office, and work to unify volcano observatories across the country including the Alaska, Hawaiian, and Cascades Volcano Observatories.

Malone says this would help researchers keep an eye on Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier and the other volcanoes in our area, and in turn keep us safe.

“They can erupt at any time,” said Malone.

The bill now moves to the House for consideration.