Oregon's Mount Hood active volcano lacks adequate monitoring, scientists say

Scientists warn that Mount Hood, an active volcano outside Portland, Ore., lacks adequate monitoring equipment and bureaucratic red tape has left them blind to detect future eruptions, which could lead to deadly consequences, according to a report.

Efforts to install equipment on Mount Hood that would allow scientists to detect the early signs of an eruption have been largely slowed by federal policies designed to help preserve the wilderness, the New York Times reported.


Dr. Seth Moran and his team at the federal Cascades Volcano Observatory submitted a proposal to the Forest Service in 2014, requesting to build three seismometers to measure earthquakes, three GPS instruments to chart ground deformation and one instrument to monitor gas emissions at four different locations on the mountain.

“The name of the game is to be able to detect and correctly interpret these warning signs as soon as possible — to give society as much time as possible to get ready,” Moran told the Times.

Moran’s proposal was initially delayed because it violated the Wilderness Act, which prevents structures and anything that might cause noise pollution from being built in federal wilderness areas. Moran’s plan was finally approved by the Forest Service in August, but his team anticipates further litigation aimed at halting the project.

Mount Hood has not erupted since the 1780s, and Moran warns that leaving the active volcano undetected for this long poses a risk to those who live nearby. There are 161 active volcanos in the United States, many of which line the west coast through California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska in the Cascade Range.  

Erik Klemetti, a volcanologist at Denison University in Ohio, told the Times that the United States lacks proper monitoring equipment in this region compared to countries like Japan, Iceland and Chile where equipment lines the mount sides of active volcano sites.


Moran added that scientists usually can detect an eruption when volcanos tremble, deform or belch volcanic gases. He pointed to experts at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, who were able to use equipment on the mountainside to detect such warning signs at the Kilauea volcano in 2018. Though about 700 homes were destroyed, scientists accurately predicted where the magma would flow in order to evacuate residents in time. No one died.

“Without those instruments, we would have been blind,” Tina Neal, the scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, told the Times. “While we would have known something was happening, we would have been less able to give guidance about where and what was likely to happen.”