Volcanoes For Kids: Raising Awareness and Preparedness


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Examples of Monitoring Tools and Graphics at Selective Volcanic Sites. Images by USGS

A partner in volcano monitoring, NASA has endorsed satellite-based measurements as among the most practical and cost- effective techniques for producing systematic data sets over a wide range of spatial or geographic and temporal or time scales.

The problem is, according to the USGS, a quick response is sometimes difficult because of:

  • Eruptions that are preceded by short (hours to days) precursory sequences of geophysical and (or) geochemical activity;
  • Inclement weather conditions, which may prohibit installation of new equipment for days, weeks, or even months, particularly at mid-latitude or high-latitude volcanoes;
  • Safety factors during unrest, which can limit where new instrumentation can safely be installed (particularly at near-vent sites that can be critical for precursor detection and eruption forecasting); and
  • The remoteness of many U.S. volcanoes (particularly those in the Aleutians and the MarianasIslands), where access is difficult or impossible most of the year.

As Guffanti et al report, however, “Under the Stafford Act (Public Law 93-288), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has the federal responsibility to issue timely warnings of potential volcanic hazards to the affected populace and civil authorities.”

Volcanoes as Hazards in the U.S.

Roughly half of the U.S.’s 169 young volcanoes are dangerous and potential hazards because of the manner in which they erupt and the communities within their reach.

USGS Ground-Based Volcano Alert Levels.

USGS Ground-Based Volcano Alert Levels. Image by USGS

In response, on top of the USGS’s existing color-coded Volcano Hazards Program with its alert-notification system (e.g. case of Pavlof Volcano), the agency also plans to monitor volcanoes at levels commensurate to their threats by prioritizing U.S. volcanoes as highest, high, and others in terms of probability of a threat. This will be accomplished by:

  1. The installation of instrumentation sufficient to detect unrest at volcanic systems likely to erupt in the not-too-distant future; and
  2. The installation of any instrumentation needed for eruption prediction and monitoring once unrest is detected.

Surviving a Volcanic Eruption

Map of Lava-Flow Hazard Zones For Probability of Flows on Kilauea Volcano: 1 (high) to 9 (low). Image by USGS

Map of Lava-Flow Hazard Zones For Probability of Flows on Kilauea Volcano: 1 (high) to 9 (low). Image by USGS

While volcanic eruptions are always preceded by signs, the reality is that some of them are not detected by instruments, nor observed by Volcanologists. As a result, if you live or travel in the shadow of a volcano you should always be ready for an eruption.

Some common sense preparations are prudent, such as learning what kind of an eruption is likely, and the suggested strategies – whether you should evacuate or get and stay inside. You should also stock up on necessities, and know an escape route e.g. obtain a hazard-zone map, if available.

And kids, if you’re reading this, educate your parents: Everyone knows you know more than they do!


BBC. Positive and negative effects of an eruption. (2013).  Accessed September 6, 2013. 

Ewert, John et al. The National Volcano Early Warning System (NVEWS). (2006). USGS. Accessed September 6, 2013.

IVM. Projects and Activities Activities of the IVM-Fund. (2013). Accessed September 6, 2013.

MacDonald, Ann-Marie. Supervolcano: Yellowstone’s Fury. CBC. (2013). Accessed September 6, 2013.

Newberry Geothermal. Newberry Project.  (2010). Accessed September 6, 2013.

Volcano World. Cost of Volcanic Eruptions. OregonStateUniversity. Accessed September 6, 2013.

OregonStateUniversity. Volcano Monitoring Techniques. Accessed September 6, 2013.

USGS. Education Resources.  (2013). Accessed September 6, 2013.

USGS. Monitoring Volcano Ground Deformation with GPS. (2009). Accessed September 6, 2013.

Volcano Hazards Program. U.S. Volcanoes and Current Activity Alerts.  (2013). Accessed September 6, 2013.

UNC. Volcanic Explosivity Index. (2003). Accessed September 6, 2013.

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