April 8, 2010
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — Could a volcano devastate Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in the same manner Clark Air Base, Philippines, was destroyed by Mount Pinatubo in 1991?
That is the question a joint team from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Southern Methodist University (SMU) is tackling in a two-year, $250,000 project designed to improve early warning monitoring of seismic events in the Northern Mariana Islands near Guam. The project involves the installation of new infrasound devices alongside traditional volcano monitoring equipment, such as seismometers and global positioning systems.
The volcano research will aid U.S. troop safety, said Margaret Allen, senior research writer at SMU. "Technology used to detect nuclear explosions and enforce the world's nuclear test ban treaty now will be pioneered to monitor active volcanoes in the Northern Mariana Islands near Guam," she said.
Guam has increasingly become an important strategic chess piece in the Asia-Pacific as the island becomes the primary base for forward deployment of U.S. military forces in the region.
The chief of the volcano project, James Quick, was in the Northern Marianas in March to oversee the installation of the infrasound equipment on three of the 15 Mariana Islands. Nine islands have active volcanoes, he said, and on average the archipelago experiences about one eruption every five years.
Quick, now with SMU, served previously as the program coordinator of the USGS Volcano Hazards Program. "Compared to Clark Air Base, ... the threats are less direct to military deployment in Guam and the Marianas," he said.
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