Volcanic Activity Data

Volcano outside of Sitko, Alaska. Sunny Side Up, Attribution 2.0 Generic License

I have a mild fascination with natural disasters.

As you may remember, last October I spent multiple days trapped on an island due to Hurricane Sandy. I was stuck until I managed to escape just in time for NASA Social. This was not my first experience with natural disaster. In fact, as a child I lived in cities where natural disasters were frequent. I hid in the hallway of our family ranch home in Miami during Hurricane Andrew. I was even in the Bay Area for the Loma Prieta Earthquake (otherwise known as the World Series Earthquake).

I once took a class called Natural Hazards & Disasters, where we spent our time learning that we would never really be safe. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, landslides… these can happen at any time. Some can be predicted; some cannot. If Yellowstone goes up (and it will at some point in the next 60,000 years) no amount of preparing will save us. Even if you’re out of the immediate danger zone (Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming would likely be completely inhabitable), there’s still the danger of ash flowing throughout the country. We’re talking major climate change and millions of people dying.

I’m not saying panic. Seriously. There’s only a 0.00014% yearly chance it will happen.

I recently stumbled upon a widget that displays earthquakes and volcanic activity worldwide. There’s some serious volcanic activity going on, and I doubt you’ll read about it in the paper. It’s not really “news” unless there is catastrophic destruction and death.

What fascinates me most is not the actual volcanoes, but the data collection. Scientists have located these volcanos and are constantly monitoring the activity. Not only that, but they’re readily sharing some of that data with the public. At any time, you can take a look at the widget and see what your local volcano is up to.

Volcanologists are expected to make predictions with this data. These predictions can lead to life or death for people living within an eruption zone. Some major cities in Italy (ahem, Pompeii anyone?) are formed in the fertile valleys nearby volcanos. If activity is detected, there’s a very short window in which evacuation can be recommended and achieved.

But are there any less serious spaces for this data to be used? How can it be harnessed?

How about something that linked up with a real estate map? For example: Walk Score maps neighborhoods based on how safe they are to walk around and what the neighborhood offers. I’d like to see my Natural Disaster score: how likely is it that my city will be hit by a natural disaster and how much damage will it cause.

Yes, some disasters are unpredictable. Every city has tradeoffs. There may not be hurricanes in the Midwest, but there are tornadoes. Tornadoes may be rare in Oregon, but there is the possibility of coastal tsunamis. You can’t escape it. But isn’t it good to be informed?

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