As the Sierra Club explained, on Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed the Natural Resources Management Act, a lands conservation bill that combines more than 100 pieces of legislation protecting 3-million-plus acres of land. The bill, which the Senate overwhelmingly passed two weeks ago, also classifies hundreds of miles of US rivers as wild, scenic, or recreational, and creates three new national monuments. In addition to this, the bill also calls for the establishment of the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System (NVEWS). 

This largely unnoticed part of the bill, as Earther reported, establishes a system that “would provide the United States Geological Survey (USGS) with the ability to keep an eye on those 161 volcanoes at a level deserving of their threatening natures. NVEWS would “modernize, standardize and stabilize” the USGS’s volcano observatories—the Alaska, California, Cascades, Hawai‘ian and Yellowstone chapters—while making their monitoring networks a single, inter-operative system.” Additionally:

  • The latest National Volcanic Threat Assessment by the USGS outlines a threat assessment which places volcanoes into five threat categories: very low, low, moderate, high, and very high.
  • NVEWS would set up a 24-hour volcano watch office to serve the entire country.
  • Even when the individual observatories aren’t in crisis response mode this office would be on call, processing and analyzing live data streams from all 161 volcanoes and spotting any worrying signs in advance of an eruption.
  • This would also help to streamline the agency’s cooperation with emergency responders and local government bodies.

Why This Matters: The United States and its territories contain 169 geologically active volcanoes, of which 54 volcanoes are a very high or high threat to public safety, so it’s starting that we don’t currently have an early warning system to help alert people living close to volcanoes. As John Ewert, a volcanologist with the USGS’s Cascade Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, said to the Lewiston Tribune that “[The new bill] is going to allow us to address needs for more and better instrumentation on high-threat volcanoes. It allows us really to improve and formalize our collaboration with other federal and state local and academic partners on how we monitor and evaluate hazards, and then how we respond to volcanoes when they reawaken.” You can ask Hawaii’s resident’s that survived Kilauea’s eruption last year, early warnings are critical!

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