Time to Spend That Volcano Monitoring Money!

  • Published on April 12th, 2009

Mount Redoubt in Alaska erupts in 1990

The U.S. Department of the Interior reports that they will start spending the stimulus money granted them in February, and among the $140 million-worth of projects is $15.2 million for Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s favorite activity: volcano monitoring!

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This has been covered before, but it’s too good to let go easily. The complete disregard for actual science shown was thrown back in Jinda’s face immediately, but the volcano gods joined in only a month later when Alaska’s Mt. Redoubt erupted. Residents of the area had been warned two months earlier than eruption was pending, and perhaps as a result there were no major incidents when the volcano finally blew. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that the Alaska Volcano Observatory’s “top priority is to prevent repetition of the incident that occurred during Redoubt’s eruption 19 years ago, when a Boeing 747 passenger aircraft strayed into an ash cloud and nearly crashed.” Eh, who needs monitoring, right?

The DOI’s announcement included other projects as well, including $14.6 million for updates to streamgauges. The US Geological Survey maintains a network of 7,500 of the streamgauges, which are used to monitor streamflow and which Salazar said were important in keeping track of the floodwaters that recently threatened North Dakota.

“Stream flow monitoring is critically important to our understanding of the effects of climate change on water availability in some regions of the nation, and accurate long-term streamflow information is necessary to determine how water managers can respond and adapt to these changes,” Salazar said.

Few will argue with the spending on these types of projects (well, one hopes), and most likely few would even notice it happening if Gov. Jindal hadn’t erupted. The backlash against that one ill-advised rant, though, highlighted the growing trend of distancing science from politics. Not long after the volcano monitoring flap, President Obama’s move to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research was punctuated by his statement that scientific decisions should be “based on facts, not ideology.” As the volcano-monitoring money starts to flow, we can hope that the separation of science and state will become the norm rather than the exception.

Mt. Redoubt 1990 eruption courtesy of R. Clucas on Wikimedia Commons

About the Author

Dave is a science writer focusing on science, health and the environment. You can find other examples of his work at davelevitan.com. Follow him on Twitter @davelevitan.

3 comments

  • help one person or help prevent millions from a disaster…? I was having trouble paying my bills after I lost my job, so you know what I did? I applied for shitty jobs, and I'm a pizza delivery person now. I have a four year degree and experience in my field, and applying to Dominos was a new low for me. But I'm paying my bills again, and not begging the government for handouts.

    And yes, this is change. The last admin didn't seem to care about prevention or early warnings for natural disasters…or proper aid after the disaster.

  • to sierrasam,

    You are an idiot. Let me rephrase that, you are a short sighted idiot. The money spent on any disaster prevention research is ALWAYS well spent; while natural disasters don't often occur- tornados, tsunamis, quakes, asteroid strikes,or any other natural catastrophes, you definitely want to be aware if its going to happen, and spending 15 million out 800 BILLION is never too much to save lives. You demand relief for a friend, which is not wrong but you can't recognize there other worthwhile life saving projects. And if you reply that lets spend that other money NOW, on welfare benefits to needy individuals what are you going to do when a tsunami washes over them (no warning given because they was no money for an early detection system)

    We are living in bad times but its still no excuse for being shortsighted.

  • This is amazing! I have a friend, a veteran, who is having trouble paying his mortgage because he lost his job. The government WON'T give him any help because his house was purchased with a VA loan, but the government gives itseslf 140 million to study volcanos! This is "Change?!"

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