USGS proposes expanding Mt. Rainier's volcano monitoring network

Mt. Rainier is just as majestic as it is dangerous in Washington. The US Geological Survey classifies it as a very high threat volcano.

"It’s the 14,400 feet of elevation that gives anything coming off the volcano a lot of momentum and a lot of potential to reach far distances," said research seismologist Seth Moran with the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory.

According to Pierce County, 2.5 million people live in the six drainages that may be affected by lahars or volcanic mudflows from an eruption or landslide. One particularly vulnerable drainage is Tahoma Creek which has experienced multiple debris flow since the late 1980s. There is only one monitoring instrument there.

"That’s a situation where the time scale for a large lahar, the time is short. It’s on the order of 10 minutes to get to the nearest residential places in the park and in the order of 20 minutes to get to the nearest low lying residential areas outside the park," said Moran.

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The USGS wants to expand the mountain’s volcano monitoring network to improve lahar detection capabilities so it can notify surrounding areas quickly. Currently, the national park has 15 monitoring sites. The USGS wants to add 12 more.

"It’s the possibility of detecting the event and getting the word out to people with enough time to get out the way. That’s the real impetus for this work," said Moran.

On Wednesday, National Parks received community input on the locations of the monitoring sites because several are in protected areas in the wilderness and some are in or near historical landmarks.

While large lahars triggered by landslides can take just minutes to reach people, scientists say a more likely scenario would be a lahar generated by an eruption, which would come with a larger warning window.

Plans for 4 monitoring sites are also in the works for Glacier Peak.

If you want to provide feedback on this proposed expansion you have until June 25. National Parks will make a decision this summer or early fall.

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