Alaska editorial: Volcano monitoring needs stable funding

Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has the right approach to secure funding for volcano observations - make it part of a national program.

Former Sen. Ted Stevens successfully earmarked money for many years to make the Alaska Volcano Observatory an effective early warning system and scientific enterprise. But it was never just about Alaska.

So much national and international air traffic passes through Alaska airspace that up-to-date tracking of volcanic hazards should be a national priority.

Besides, Alaska has no monopoly on smoking mountains. Other parts of the country deserve watching as well. The most violent volcanic explosion in recent memory occurred not in Alaska. It blew the top of Mount St. Helens in Washington on May 18, 1980. The ash blanketed much of the Pacific Northwest.

Having an effective detection and monitoring system in place for such events makes sense.

Mount Redoubt's recent eruption couldn't have been better timed as a rebuttal to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's mocking of volcano monitoring during his response to President Barack Obama's first address to Congress.

Jindal seemed too ironic as the chief scold on this subject, since his state benefits from an extensive federal program designed to detect hurricanes. He would mock that effort at his political peril, and for good reason. It's worth having the information.

Jindal, to his credit, claimed he was objecting not to the monitoring itself but rather to its inclusion in the stimulus funding package. That's a reasonable point, but it wasn't how it came across at the time.

It's unlikely that the expenditures for volcano monitoring will match those devoted to hurricane monitoring, and that's fine. Volcanic eruptions are less frequent and less destructive, most of the time. They still bear watching, and the federal government is the appropriate entity to pay for the eyes.



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