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More volcano monitoring stations proposed for Mount Hood

Public input sought for stations on 'very high-threat' mountain

Mt. Hood National Forest officials seek public comment on the proposed installation of four volcano monitoring stations on the upper flanks of Mount Hood.

While it may not be widely known, given its quiet nature, Mount Hood is a functioning, active volcano. In its 2005 National Volcanic Early Warning System assessment, the U.S. Geological Survey designated Mount Hood as a “very high-threat” volcano.

The rating is based on its eruptive history, current activity and closeness to communities downstream and downwind, making the 2005 assessment of the volcano’s risk still relevant today. It received a threat score of 213, which puts it fourth on the list of volcanic threats in the U.S., only below Mount Kilauea in Hawaii and Mount St. Helens and Rainier in Washington.

Mount Hood produces frequent earthquakes, while steam and volcanic gases are regularly emitted around Crater Rock near its summit. POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Mount Hood was named a volcano with very high threat of eruption by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2005.

The assessment also names Crater Lake, Newberry and South Sister are also named as very high-threat volcanos.

The proposed unmanned remote monitoring stations, which would be installed by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cascades Volcano Observatory, would be located in the Mount Hood Wilderness area and take up 105 square feet.

According to a press release issued by the Mt. Hood National Forest, the stations would be constructed away from trails and painted to blend in with the surroundings and designed to have minimal impact on the environment.

Ben Pauk, a geophysicist for the observatory, said the stations are designed to be robust enough to withstand icing and snow in the winter and not need replacement batteries, which would require a helicopter drop, for five to seven years.

Routine maintenance would be addressed by hiking to the sites.

“These proposed stations greatly enhance the ability of USGS-CVO to detect subtle signals beneath the volcano and determine with greater confidence whether or not the volcano poses any imminent threat of eruption,” reads the release.

Laura Pramuk, Mt. Hood National Forest public affairs officer, said the gas monitoring data from the stations also will be helpful in some search and rescue operations.

“Every once in a while they have to go down in those gas holes to reach people,” she said. “And that’s very dangerous.”

The USGS assessment found that Mount Hood’s level of risk requires a higher level of monitoring than is currently used on the mountain.

“We’ve been slowly expanding our monitoring capabilities all over the cascades,” Pauk said, citing financial and other barriers. “We’ve been wanting to get to Hood for quite some time.”

Although Pauk said ideally the observatory would like to have more stations, the proposed four would put Mount Hood closer to its required level of monitoring.

The mountain has two similar monitoring stations in the Timberline Lodge ski area and one in the Mt. Hood Meadows ski area, which are sufficient only during certain times of the year.

While the lifts aren’t being used, the stations work well, Pauk said, but during ski season the stations tend to pick up lift activity.

The observatory also has stations seven to 10 miles away from the summit that are not as effective at picking up miniscule earthquakes that generally occur closer to the mouth of the volcano’s lava chamber.

“It makes it difficult to locate those earthquakes happening right around the summit,” Pauk said.

The proposed new stations would collect seismic, GPS and volcanic gas data as a basis for public communications and early warnings for nearby residents and recreationists using the wilderness and forest.

As required, the Mt. Hood National Forest is seeking public opinion before approving any projects in the wilderness area.

“We want to see if people agree that the intrusion in the wilderness is worth the increased safety and early warning,” Pramuk said. “Does it balance out?”

People are invited to comment on this proposal through Monday, April 27. Email correspondence to comments-pacificnorthwest-mthood@fs.fed.us and send written comments to MaryEllen Fitzgerald at Mt. Hood National Forest, 16400 Champion Way, Sandy, OR 97055, or fax to 503-668-1423.

Further information on this project is available at fs.usda.gov/projects/mthood/landmanagement/projects.