The USGS Volcano Observatories: can we save VDAP?

This April-1 post is correct only in describing what the USGS and VDAP do – apart from that, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is fundamentally lacking in this spoof. There is also no Mount Rainier crisis, nor has Microsoft captured the CVO outreach! (But regrettably, the proposed 15% budget cut to USGS is correct, although Congress can still change this.) There is a degree of plausibility in the post: many of the things described here could conceivably happen. VC is deeply impressed with the work of VDAP (as we are with USGS!), and are very strongly supportive of its work. If there were ever any threat to its future, we would be happy to provide any support we can. But putting up for sale Easter Island, beach holidays on ‘death star’ Pluto, as well as the whole Earth as a tax-deductible loss, might be pushing the boundaries of what Ebay would accept. Although, if you do want the Krafla drill bit, I am sure IMO would listen to offers. Retrieving it for you might be a different matter!

And now for the original spoof:

As many of our readers will be aware, USGS has been in negotiations with the US government regarding its future funding settlement, within the on-going US budget reconciliation process. The outcome unexpectedly appeared on Wikileaks today. VC has known about the plans for some time but has no opinion on whether the changes are beneficial or detrimental. We are however very concerned by the impact on a little known but highly effective program called VDAP, and have now started action to save this program from its potential demise.

Background Amongst a host of other activities, the US Geological Survey (USGS) runs the five major US volcano observatories: the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO), the Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO), California Volcano Observatory (CAVO), and the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO). Each of these monitors the volcanoes within its regional area, and it provides formal notifications, reports and hazard assessments on all volcanoes at risk of erupting. For this they install and maintain monitoring networks. The VOs are in charge of risk assessments and emergency planning related to eruptions. They run a wide ranging education program, and also carry out scientific research, normally in collaboration with nearby universities. They are best known for the sterling work done before and during the eruptions of Mount St Helens, when their actions saved countless lives.

The US government considers the work of USGS and of the volcano observatories to be of great commercial value. Therefore, it has considered that they could be funded commercially and do not need public funds. The plans were developed under the previous administration and were part of the cost-cutting package needed to fund the growth in medicare. The Trump administration, after the withdrawal of its health-care savings program, have adopted the plan with only a few minor changes, after initially proposing a 15 per cent cut to the 1.1 billion dollar USGS budget.

The plans had not been made public and the negotiations were taking place in strict secrecy. However, they were leaked to Wikileaks which released them this morning. USGS has strongly condemned the leak. The press release they put out uses the words ‘very concerned’ and ‘premature’ but does not deny the accuracy of the information published on Wikileaks.

Actions The Wikileaks report and the documents in the Vault imply that USGS has become subject of a bidding war between mining companies. The bidding companies are not interested in the volcanic activities. To ensure a successful outcome of the negotiations, the following actions have been taken:

  • All five volcano observatories (VOs) are split off from USGS and are privatised as independent entities. They are expected to raise all the money needed for their operations by selling their products on the open market.
  • The geographical restrictions will be lifted. The five VOs will be able to compete with each other and each one can sell reports on any volcanic activity in the US or elsewhere.
  • As commercial organisations, the VOs will no longer have to submit environmental impact studies after each eruption, and any current environmental restrictions, including the Clean Air Act, will not apply to them.
  • The scientific and educational activities of the VOs may continue but will have to be self-funded. All scientific employees with full time, indefinite contracts will have to fund their own salaries by competing for grants.
  • The data, reports and notifications will no longer be open access. Each organisation or nation which needs the reports or warnings will negotiate with a VO, and will purchase products produced specifically for them.
  • Open access to the monitoring data networks will end, as the data is of high commercial value. Because the stations are mostly on local networks which are not fully secure, all data will be encrypted. Unauthorised access to USGS data will become a federal offence.

The quality of the products of the VOs is expected to improve dramatically due to the competition between the VOs. For instance, they will in the future be able to provide five-minute warnings and updates of eruptions, something which airlines have been requesting for some time. Monitoring of volcanoes where there is little or no commercial impact will probably end: such work would not be cost effective. One of the goals of the US government is to ensure that the effort of the VOs is directed towards the volcanoes with the largest and most immediate financial impact. A major future source of income of the VOs is expected to come from volcano tourism, and the organisations are encouraged to provide accommodation, facilities and activities for this purpose. They have been granted immunity from any volcano-related injuries or fatalities.

St Helens before and after the eruption. The area remains effectively uninhabited. Continued monitoring of St Helens is therefore not seen as a commercial priority. There are suggestions that a tourist accommodation and activity center may be developed inside the crater.

Negotiations The major airlines are already in negotiations with the VOs. The ICAO Policy on Charges for Airports and Air Navigation Services already allows volcano observatories to charge, stating in article 42 of the convention …where air navigation services are provided for international use, the air navigation service providers may require the users to pay their share of the related costs. Therefore, this decision was not unexpected. The cost of providing detailed eruption warnings and reports is expected to add roughly 5 dollar to the average ticket price.

Insurance companies have shown strong interested in the risk assessments and the emergency plans owned by the VOs. They will pay considerable sums in order to keep these secret. They are demanding that the public does not have advance notice of impending eruptions as this would allow them to take out underpriced insurance, and this demand seems to have become a stumbling block in the negotiations. The Wikileak information which today revealed the plans for privatisation may have come from an employee of one of these insurance companies.

Several other organisations have expressed interest in buying one of the VOs. It is likely that they will be highly profitable. Paradise Holidays is considering a bid for the HVO. Microsoft has agreed to run the public support operations of CVO. Microsoft considers the CVO data to be important not only because of their own location, but with the developing situation on Mount Rainier, they expect that there will be great public interest in the daily reports. They will make all notifications accessible for free but only on Windows 10, and only within the US. The Microsoft CVO notification applet will be part of the next major update of Windows 10, scheduled for today. For more information on this, as well as on the current Mount Rainier crisis, they can be contacted at (800) MICROSOFT (642-7676).

Click here to update Windows

The Volcano Disaster Assistance Program

This brings us to the topic of this post. One of the most important but also most at-risk parts of the Volcano Observatories operation is the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program, or VDAP for short. It is a cooperation between USGS and the US State Department, to help reduce volcanic risk in developing nations with substantial volcano hazards, to prevent volcanic crises from becoming disasters and to advance science diplomacy. It is a long-running program with some spectacular but poorly known successes. For instance, the impact of the Pinatubo eruption would have been very much worse had not VDAP provided an accurate eruption and impact forecast, which allowed the Philippine government to initiate massive evacuations. (VDAP also made the operation Fiery Vigil possible which evacuated Clark Air Base and U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay just before the eruption and prevented mass US casualties.)

Because of the large reduction in the US State Department budget, its changing priorities, and because of the lack of volcanoes in Iraq, the State Department is withdrawing from this collaboration. It leaves USGS to cover the full cost out of its commercial income. USGS will also start having to pay for the Earth monitoring observations needed for VDAP, since NASA lost the right to carry out science Earth observations when the patent for this was acquired by Dauria Aerospace.

VC has been aware of this danger for some months. We consider VDAP utterly important. One of the goals of VC has always been to work with the less wealthy countries in identifying their dangerous volcanoes, and to raise awareness of their plight. It is well known that the large majority of dangerous volcanoes, and of the populations-at-risk, are located in the developing world. All other activities of the Volcano Observatories can safely be privatised (in fact we can now reveal that VC is part of a consortium which has offered to run YVO), but VDAP works with people and countries which cannot pay commercial rates for their education and security.

There is an immediate threat to this highly effective program, and the decision to end it could come as early as today. VC has therefore decided to take part in a worldwide effort to help VDAP through fund raising. We have decide to organise an auction. Many volcano scientists and organisations have already been donating historical material. Ebay was considered but the material is too specialised and may not raise as much as the items are worth. We have therefore put the items up for sale on our own site. Below you can see the list of items. Please bid generously. Many of the items are unique and are unlikely to ever be seen again for sale. All money raised will go to VDAP: there are no fees charged by any intermediary, and this includes VC.

The following items are now open for bidding. Select your items of interest, and use the submit button at the bottom to enter your sealed bids!

Items for sale:

A full-size reproduction of Jules Tavernier’s painting Full Moon over Kilauea, 1887 was donated by the Honolulu Museum of Art.


An original, signed copy of The Sacramento Daily Union, November 16, 1866, containing Mark Twain’s famous description of Kilauea: The Vision of Hell and Its Angels.


A sample of Vedde ash donated by the Ice Core Project. This souvenir from the largest eruption Iceland has ever seen was retrieved from deep within the Greenland icecap. Soon, the icecap will be melting, and this sample will be the only one in the world! Store in a cool place.


A unique, one-off magma statue, courtesy of the IMO. It is made from magma extracted 2 kilometer underground when they accidentally drilled into a magma pocket. 45 cm tall, this will grace any model volcano garden structure and be the envy of the neighbourhood.


A loaf of bread found in the ruins of Pompeii, and baked by the fiery ash of Vesuvius. Donated by the British Museum. Note: not for human consumption.


The Etna lava bomb which hit Boris Behncke on the head last month, donated by the BBC. We expect that many of Boris’ colleagues will bid generously!


A floating pumice rock, found washed up on shore in Darwin after the Krakatoa eruption, and the only piece of surviving Krakatoa pumice in the world! This unique multi-purpose feature replaces the rubber duck in the bath and can be used both as a sponge and as exfoliator.


NASA has donated one orbit (90 minutes) of time on the Hubble Space Telescope. This one will be of great interest to amateur astronomers. You are not allowed to look down, as mentioned above, but observing Olympus Mons on Mars is possible if you so wish. You will have the right to name any new object you discover. VC will be happy to provide suggestions.


A big prize: A full day on Iceland exploring Hekla with our very own Carl. Note: travel costs are not included. Life insurance is strongly recommended.


Life-long volcano travel insurance covers you for any trip to any active volcano anywhere in the world, offered by Lloyd’s of London. Cannot be combined with life insurance.


A historical item! The original drill-bit that penetrated the Krafla magma chamber during the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project of 2008-2009 is up for sale. However, the buyer must collect as it’s still 2.1 kilometers underground.


A day at the movies has been donated by Hollywood. You will be on-set of the filming of the new block buster ‘Night at the Volcano‘, where the Mauna Loa night guard experiences a magic time when the lava rocks come to life and start running around in funny ways, and starring Scarlett Johansson as the volcano! Alternatively, you can also opt for ‘Boom Boom Land‘, a bitter-sweet musical about two up-and-coming volcanoes – this wall-to-wall visual and auditorial experience is the front runner for the 2019 oscars!


The US Airforce has donated a ‘Volcano buster‘: a type of missile specifically designed to explode inside an erupting volcano to collapse and block the conduit. Please note that this is a design model only and does not contain explosives or fuel. If you require a working copy, this can be purchased from the Russian military. There will be a delivery charge.


AVO has donated Bogoslof island. This is your chance to own your own volcano! It is also a unique chance to buy real estate which grows in size as well as in value.


A two-week luxury summer holiday exploring the volcanoes and beaches of Pluto! You will travel on Virgin Space ‘Falcon’ and stay in the famous Planet-Nine hotel (five star!), in a single-occupancy, well-guarded room. All meals and excursions are included. Do remember to bring your father.


This one is truly unique: A Moai (Easter Island statue) has been donated for this fund raising. It will look terrific in your garden, and will be the envy of the world. An island-sized garden is best. Buyer collects. If you prefer, Easter Island itself can also be purchased, to store your statue in-situ.


Also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Plymouth City, Montserrat is on offer. This ancient capital was abandoned after the eruption of Soufrière Hills volcano, and lies under 12 meters of mud and volcanic ash. A life time of discovery and reality-Simcity awaits the enterprising, digging entrepreneur. You will need to bring your own spade.


Geolurking has donated a signed photograph of his Navy boots. (Be warned: Geolurking himself is not included).

And last but not least, the US government has put up for this sale the entire world. All proceeds are to go to VDAP! You will also support the Trump foundation which will be able to offset the loss of the world against its income and is expected not to have to pay tax until at least the year 2475.

Submit your bids


1 April 2017

42 thoughts on “The USGS Volcano Observatories: can we save VDAP?

  1. I would like to transfer funds directly from my account to this noble cause. Just email me your account information and allow 24-48 hours for the funds to transfer and together we’ll #savethevolcanoes

  2. You had me going for a good while there, but as the auction items got more and more “believeable”, something started to itch in the back of my head…well played.

  3. I know you have a little influence with IMO…Some at least.
    I would be grateful, therefore, if you could carry out and conclude such negotiations as may be necessary to add one item to the list.
    If you could arrange for the bid winner to be informed by private message or recorded delivery the dates, times, and locations of the next 2 proposed Icelandic eruptions (min VEI2) I hereby confirm and commit that I will bid to the best figure that my current financial status will reasonably permit.

  4. I’m up for a bid on Boris’ lava bomb. Does it come with a blood sample from his head, too?

    Had great fun reading this – thanks!

  5. Off the april fools day:

    I think I am not the only one noticing the increased tendency of earthquakes towards N/NW of Bardarbunga in the medium depth, lower than the bottom of the plug. this could very well be magma leaking out of the chamber, finding a new path slowly, making a dike.

    Normal view:

    View from NW down:

    And view from NE up:

    You can also see the deep earthquakes of the “UNKNOWNABUNGA”, which EQs that I have checked for the past two years and a half, are moving towards S/SE over time, and a bit upwards. Quite possibly a rising batch of magma.

    • The same “underground bulge” or outward movement of EQs is lately seen at Katla, and also at Grimsvotn towards S/SE where it is normal since the magma body/bodies is/are expanding towards SE, and so we have more EQs as the is pressure on the walls or the “outer boundaries” of the magma body or the magma system. Just like at Grimsvotn, where the movement is seen on the GPS, we also see the inflating signal at Bardarbunga for quite a while, and has in the past months also re-strengthen especially at the KIS station.

      Here we have 180mm of Northward movement, and 165mm of westward movement. Lately the westward movement is slightly reducing, but the north movement is continuing at a steady rate. This would be consistent with the idea of the magma pressing towards NW, which would reduce the W component and keep the N component.

      The VON station, which is W/NW from Bardarbunga, does have appropriate signals, with the re-emerging inflation since last October, like at KIS above.
      It also has a weak N component which is reasonable since it is in a such location relative to the magma chamber. And since last September, there is negligent north movement, while the W movement picked up the pace in July.

      DYN is also on a similar path as KIS, having a stronger N component, which is normal given its location relative to the deformation source.

      The W-E (zonal) components are also influenced by general crustal movement, not just potential inflation.

      • At the current rate, VONC will be back at its pre-Bardarbunga level by 2015 or so. Much faster than I would have guessed. It is mainly relaxation, I think, as magma leaks back into the chamber.

  6. Bravo!Bravo!
    Love this. Dang near bought it.
    Until I looked at the date…
    Well Played…

  7. There is a small error in the things auctioned.
    It is not a day with me in Iceland.
    It is a weekend with me and Albert, complete with lectures and volcano-watching in 2018.

    • Whichever raises more money.. I expect Carl and Hekla would make an irresistible combination. You can find me around Pluto.

    • I assumed that it would be a virtual tour (for Carl, at least) where the winner of the auction would wear a camera of some type, connected 2-way via satellite to Carl, who would “guide” the winner up and around the mountain from his living room.

      It is why I bid $0.01(Zimbabwe).

      • Your offer has been accepted! Did we mention the sales tax?

  8. As unofficial spokeswoman for the penguins on Kerguelen I can contact them and see if they have anything to donate to this worthy cause. They are probably more concerned about oil drilling in the antarctic, but it wouldn’t hurt to monitor the volcanoes.

  9. I have two pieces of pumice from Krakatoa recovered from a beach on the North Coast of Natal South Africa by my father Prof R.J Davies who was Proffessor of the Geography Dept of the University of Natal Durban. That pumice floated a long way.

  10. You evil @^?!?!”*)****!!!! xD

    I can’t believe I fell for it! Even frantically searched for the Rainier crisis! Damn it! Too late by time it dawned on me *facepalm*.
    Although on a serious note, I wouldn’t be surprised if this actually happened…… probably why I was fooled. I fully expect a Daily Fail “article” on this!

    • Well, it is nice for the writers to know it worked. You were certainly not alone although perhaps the only one willing to admit it! There were clues at the end (the US selling the world was a hint) but also some comments to try to tempt people into being sidetracked (such as Mt Rainier).

  11. Hello, what’s this? Another little quake at Hekla and now the strain meter’s taken a nosedive. Camera on!

  12. Hekla. It might be a false alarm, but the MJO Highpass, the Tremor Charts, all looking like (to a dumb observer like me) something might be happening. Time will tell. It is pretty stormy in Iceland right now, so it could simply be a false alarm. And IMO have not said anything which just about proves my false alarm!

  13. Sorry folks. I got excited over nothing. It must have been the caffeine in my first coffee :-). The storm is just rattling a few instruments around, and the strain nose-dive isn’t really steep enough to warrant attention. Back to a second coffee out on the patio in the lovely sunshine!

  14. There was a piece planned for today, but a bit of real Life got me sidetracked and delayed.
    It is written by now, but I am to tired to proofread and edit it in until morning.

    The character of the article is also such that I suspect that Albert would go all Popperian on me if I made a silly mistake. 🙂

    • Pomeranian or Pompeian? Something to do with Karl Popper?

      “Popper argues, to ensure a theory to be true; it is more important that its falsity can be detected as easily as possible.

  15. A significant earthquake in South Africa, near Potchefstroom. I had no idea this was a tectonically active region. Although, in the records I see there have been two similar M5 events over the past 50 years here. There was discussion whether mining has activated a fault, but that seems unlikely. Miners are very at risk of such quakes though, while working underground.

    • My mother was from that area. I also lived relatively nearby (in South African terms) for a year or so when I was a kid, and at no time can I either recall experiencing a quake, or hearing talk of any in the area. Huge electric storms, most definitely,but quakes? Not so much.

  16. Thanks Geo for the flight website you gave me. My daughter was to be home yesterday but because of weather on our east coast she had to stay in Ireland an extra night & wait until today to leave. I was able to watch the plane on the flight map & see her safely land here about an hour ago. They had to divide in groups because of the delay. The other group comes in later tonight & some of the professors that went have to spend an extra night in Ireland. I was very happy she was in the first group. Thanks again for those too that gave me weather sites to use while she was there. 🙂

    • I usually use it to find out who flew over low and fast. Even though Pensacola NAS has a flight school here, typically the flybys are civil aviation. The military does its stuff over open water in case something goes wrong. Besides, I have a crap load of years watching the flying nitwits and can easily pick out which engines are or are not military.

  17. My brother says he would like to make a bid for the Scarlett Johansson as a volcano. He knows she’ll play the part well being “hot” herself. Saying he needs to do bid thru me tho because if his girlfriend finds out she’ll be the one erupting. 🙂

  18. I’m going to Iceland to visit some friends on the 19th April. I wonder if Hekla is preparing a little present for me…

    03.04.2017 13:11:00 63,998 -19,581 9,0 km 1,4 99,0 4,3 km A af Heklu

  19. What does an earthquake at a depth of 44.7k mean? Im asking because, even though its only 57.84% confirmed, there was a 1.7 at that depth near Goðabunga

    • False locationing. There is just nothing down there that can “snap”.

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