Glacier Peak could get more monitors to track seismic activity

GLACIER PEAK — The U.S. Geological Survey is seeking permission to install four new monitoring stations around Snohomish County’s only volcano.

Glacier Peak is classified as one of the most dangerous and least-monitored volcanoes in the country. A decade ago, researchers listed the mountain as high priority for more extensive studies and better monitoring equipment.

The USGS started mapping the volcano and its surrounding peaks and valleys — 482 square miles — last year using Light Detection and Ranging, or lidar. That gives researchers a detailed lay of the land. Now, they hope for U.S. Forest Service approval to set up equipment that can track seismic activity, including quaking or bulging of the mountain’s slopes. The stations would be able to record and transmit that activity in real time, providing data to help scientists understand Glacier Peak and hopefully predict future eruptions, according to the USGS’ proposal.

If the volcano were to erupt, it could send a massive wall of mud, rock and glacial melt down the Stillaguamish and Skagit river valleys, ripping through Darrington and parts of Arlington and Stanwood.

Burlington, Sedro-Woolley and Lyman in Skagit County also are built on top of volcanic debris from long ago and could be in the path of future flows.

“Only with adequate monitoring systems in place can volcano observatories provide accurate and timely forecasts and alerts of possible eruptive activity,” according to the USGS’ application.

The application is for a 20-year permit to install and maintain four seismic stations, spaced out around the mountain, said Eric Ozog, realty specialist for the forest service. Two would be built from scratch and two would be added to existing forest service structures, a lookout at Miner’s Ridge and a radio shelter on Zilob Peak. One seismic monitoring station and one glacier research station already are in place on Glacier Peak and will remain in use, he said.

It would take three days to set up each new station, up to a week if the weather turns. Once installed, the equipment would take up about 15 square feet and would be camouflaged to blend with the environment, according to the application.

The forest service is taking public comments and questions about the proposal this month. People can email Ozog at eozog@fs.fed.us or mail a letter to the Darrington Ranger District Office, 1405 Emens Avenue North, Darrington, WA 98241. The deadline to submit comments is June 27.

The issue most likely to draw public concern is the use of helicopters to haul some equipment and personnel into the wilderness area, which is designated for man- powered machinery only, Ozog said. Helicopters would be needed during the installation and every five years to haul in heavy replacement batteries.

“Each station will be designed to last for decades and allow for new-generation monitoring equipment to be installed without further modifications of the stations or an increase in size or footprint,” according to the USGS.

The estimated cost for putting in four stations is $170,000, and it would cost about $4,000 a year — $1,000 for each location — to maintain them.

At this point, no public meetings are planned regarding the proposed seismic monitoring stations.

“We would hope that the public would see the longterm benefit of monitoring the volcano,” Ozog said. “If we get significant interest, a public meeting could be a possibility.”

A decision on the permit should be made by early 2016, Ozog said. If it is approved, work on the stations likely would start next summer.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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