Summary of Hearings on Volcanic Hazards (3-20-06)
- March 16, 2006: Senate Committee on
Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Disaster
Prevention and Prediction hearing on "Volcanic Hazards
- Impacts on Aviation"
Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
Subcommittee on Disaster Prevention and Prediction
Hearing on "Volcanic Hazards - Impacts on Aviation"
March 16, 2006
Captain Terry McVenes, Executive Air Safety Chairman, Airline Pilots
Dr. John Eichelberger, Professor of Volcanology, University of Alaska
Fairbanks and Coordinating Scientist, Alaska Volcano Observatory
James E. Quick, Program Coordinator for the Volcano Hazards Program,
U.S. Geological Survey
On March 16, the Disaster Prevention and Prediction Subcommittee
of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held
a hearing to discuss the threats to aviation posed by volcanic eruptions.
"Volcanic ash poses
a grave threat to Alaska," commented
Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), chair of the full committee.
Captain Terry McVenes, Executive Air Safety Chairman of the Air Line
Pilots Association, testified that ash from volcanic eruptions poses
significant dangers to commercial airlines. He noted that in the past
25 years, commercial flights through ash have resulted in over $250
million worth of damage and endangered thousands of lives. McVenes
told senators that commercial flights are jeopardized by a lack of
warning about volcanic eruptions in sparsely populated areas, particularly
the Pacific "Ring of Fire." "The majority of the Ring's
volcanoes are un-monitored, yet some of the world's busiest air navigation
routes crisscross these areas," he said. McVenes called on Congress
to increase federal support to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS),
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to improve "the necessary
detection and prediction resources."
In his opening remarks, Dr. John Eichelberger, coordinating scientist
for the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) echoed McVenes' request for
financial resources, adding "Volcanology is a case where a modest
investment produces a large benefit in reducing the impact of catastrophic
events." He noted that each day approximately 25,000 people fly
over 100 potentially active volcanoes, half of which are located in
Alaska. Eichelberger added that AVO's geophysical monitoring of 30
Alaskan volcanoes has resulted in timely predictions of eruptions,
successful evacuations, and life-saving flight cancellations and diversions.
"AVO's successful prediction of and response to the eruption
of Augustine Volcano makes the case for continued support of this
effort all the more compelling," he told senators.
The final witness to testify was James Quick, Program Coordinator
of the USGS Volcano Hazards Program. Quick focused his remarks on
the need to improve and expand nationwide monitoring capabilities
and instrumentation. He also explained that the USGS, NOAA, and the
FAA currently share information during eruptions, adding that the
USGS is actively working to improve communications with these agencies.
Following the testimony, Stevens asked whether monitoring the eruption
of Augustine has drained USGS resources and prevented adequate monitoring
of other volcanoes. Quick responded that directing extra funds towards
Augustine has prevented the expansion of the monitoring network, but
has not resulted in the termination of any current monitoring. He
added that monitoring "will be the last thing we turn off."
Stevens also expressed his displeasure that earmarks for AVO have
been eliminated from the President's budget request, cutting $1million
from AVO. Eichelberger told Stevens that past funding has been sufficient,
but that a 15% cut during an active eruption will strain AVO's budget.
Stevens voiced concern that Congress sees AVO as "another piece
of pork" and told the panel he will do what he can to restore
funding for volcanic monitoring.
For the full text of witness testimony and an audio recording of
the hearing, click
Sources: Hearing testimony.
Contributed by Jenny Fisher, 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern.
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Last updated on March 20, 2006.