Monitoring system to track volcanoes near Guam
TOKYO — Scientists knew in January that Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul was waking up.
That’s because the volcano — which shut down most air travel in and out of Europe for five days last month — is monitored in real time with equipment on the ground, according to James Quick, a professor of earth sciences at Southern Methodist University.
But not all volcanoes — including those in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands — have real-time monitoring systems, said Quick, whose former job at the U.S. Geological Survey involved watching the United States’ 169 active volcanoes.
Instead, scientists and aviation officials rely on satellites, pilots and the volcanoes’ neighbors for alerts of eruptions, Quick said.
Now, a $250,000 grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will put two solar-powered digital seismometers on Anatahan and Sarigan, two active volcanoes in the island chain near Guam. The systems should be fully operational by November, Quick said. To date, there is no money for maintaining the systems.
"When a volcano erupts, it can go many hours before satellites catch it," Quick said during a phone interview earlier this month. "It will give us situational awareness for people in the neighborhood."
Those in the neighborhood include Andersen Air Force Base, Guam Naval Base, the Guam Air National Guard and Guam International Airport, which handles 25,000 commercial flights a year.
The two Marianas volcanoes were selected because they also sit in a flight corridor between Australia and New Zealand. Winds could take an ash plume south, toward Guam and Saipan, and even toward the Philippines.
Quick said the project is not affiliated with the military.
Anatahan, the most active volcano in the chain, has erupted several times in recent years, including an eruption in 2003 that went for five hours before anyone knew about it, Quick said. The ash rose to more than 30,000 feet within 15 minutes of that eruption.
In 2005, another eruption closed Saipan’s airport for four days, according to Quick.
Andersen spokesman Tech. Sgt. Michael Andriacco said the base historian could not find any record of recent eruptions affecting operations on the air base in Guam. In case of an eruption, the largest immediate impact would be moving or rescheduling military training on islands throughout the Marianas chain, he said.