Kilauea tops list of ‘very high threat’ volcanoes across US

While sulfur dioxide emissions from Kilauea’s summit are on the decline, volcanic gas emissions...
While sulfur dioxide emissions from Kilauea’s summit are on the decline, volcanic gas emissions are still high from the East Rift Zone. (Image: USGS)
Published: Oct. 25, 2018 at 2:06 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kilauea may be quiet, but it’s anything but dormant.

In fact, a new USGS report gives Kilauea the highest threat assessment among volcanoes in the United States.

Mount St. Helens is no. 2 on the list.

The report, released Thursday, is designed to help policymakers, scientists and those living near volcanoes better understand the risks. It’s the first update to the U.S. Geological Survey’s volcano threat assessments since 2005.

There were 18 U.S. volcanoes classified as “very high threat.”

“This report may come as a surprise to many, but not to volcanologists,” said Concord University volcano expert Janine Krippner. “The USA is one of the most active countries in the world when it comes to volcanic activity,” she said, noting there have been 120 eruptions in U.S. volcanoes since 1980.

Kilauea was given an overall “threat score” of 263, compared to Mount St. Helens' 235 and Mount Ranier’s 203.

The scoring system takes into account the likelihood of eruption and the risk of an eruption to nearby populations.

Not surprisingly, Kilauea has been deemed a "very high" threat for decades.

In May, the volcano started erupting in lower Puna, forcing thousands to evacuate and eventually destroying whole communities and hundreds of homes. The eruptions have since stopped, but geologists warn that they could start up again at any time.

The USGS report also characterized Mauna Loa as a “very high threat” volcano. It was 16th on the ranking, which included 161 volcanoes across the nation and in U.S. territories.

Haleakala was ranked 86th on the list, while Mauna Kea was ranked 106th — as a “moderate” threat.

Kilauea is the most active volcano in the United States “and it’s got a lot of development right on its flanks,” said government volcanologist John Ewert, the report’s chief author. He said Hilo, Hawaii, is probably the biggest city in the United States in a hazard area for a very high threat volcano, Mauna Loa.

Ewert said the threat rankings aren’t about what will blow next, but “the potential severity” of the damage.

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