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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Experts in volcano hazards and public safety have started a conversation about volcanoes in the southwestern United States, and how best to prepare for future activity. Prior to this meeting, emergency response planning for volcanic unrest in the region had received little attention by federal or state agencies.
Though volcanic eruptions are comparatively rare in the American Southwest, the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah host geologically-recent volcanic eruption deposits and are vulnerable to future volcanic activity. Compared with other parts of the western U.S., comparatively little research has been focused on this area, and eruption probabilities are poorly understood.
“A volcanic eruption in the American southwest is an example of a low-probability, but high-impact event for which we should be prepared to respond,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “No one wants to be exchanging business cards during an emergency, and thus a small investment in advance planning could pay off in personal relationships and coordination between scientists and first responders.”
Although there has been no eruption for nearly 1,000 years, it is likely that eruptions will occur again in the San Francisco Volcanic Field. With an average interval of several thousand years between past periods of volcanic activity, it is impossible to forecast when the next eruption will occur. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists believe that the most probable sites of future eruptions are in the eastern part of the field and that the eruptions are likely to be small. These future eruptions may provide spectacular volcanic displays but should pose little hazard because of their small size and the relative remoteness of the area.
The cones and lava flows of the San Francisco volcanic field, which covers about 2,000 square miles of the southwestern Colorado Plateau, result from several million years of volcanic activity. These powerful underground forces changed the landscape dramatically beginning in the winter of AD 1064-65. Sunset Crater appeared when molten rock sprayed out of a crack in the ground high into the air, solidified, then fell to earth as large bombs or smaller cinders. ...