Still think ‘volcano monitoring’ is foolish?

STILL THINK ‘VOLCANO MONITORING’ IS FOOLISH?…. Of all the charges levied during the debate over the economic stimulus package, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) offered one of the most foolish. In a widely-panned national address, Jindal complained bitterly about “wasteful spending,” and to prove his point, highlighted “$140 million for something called ‘volcano monitoring.'”

Even at the time, it was an unusually foolish thing to say. A month later, Jindal’s complaints look even worse.

An erupting Mount Redoubt exploded again at 4:31 this morning — its fifth and strongest discharge yet — sending an ash cloud to new heights, the Alaska Volcano Observatory reported.

Ash has now been detected at 60,000 feet above sea level, the National Weather Service reported.

The AP added, “Ash from Alaska’s volcanoes is like a rock fragment with jagged edges and has been used as an industrial abrasive. It can injure skin, eyes and breathing passages. The young, the elderly and people with respiratory problems are especially susceptible to ash-related health problems. Ash can also cause damage engines in planes, cars and other vehicles.”

A USGS geologist confirmed to Zachary Roth that “a portion of the stimulus spending for volcano monitoring that Jindal lampooned has been slated to go to USGS monitoring Redoubt.”

Chris Waythomas, a geologist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory, a branch of the USGS, said that part of the money from the stimulus that Jindal was referring to would have been used to “shore up” monitoring of Redoubt, by adding new monitoring technology like real-time GPS. Redoubt, he said, was “very high on our list” of volcanoes that needed increased scrutiny.

In fact, thanks to its close monitoring of Redoubt, the USGS has known for months that it was on the point of blowing. The volcano had emitted ash and steam last week, alerting scientists to the likely imminence of a full eruption. Their efforts also meant they knew enough to raise the alert level to orange, or “watch” on Saturday, a day before Redoubt erupted. That, for instance, meant that the FAA received advanced warning that flight disruptions could occur, and it gave local officials time to draw up precautionary plans to evacuate people if needed.

So in this case, government scientists appear to have had access to enough information to anticipate the eruption, but there’s no guarantee that that’ll always be the case. Waythomas said that, because of funding shortfalls, monitoring efforts for several other volcanoes lacked some of the technologies that could be of crucial help to geologists.

To hear Jindal tell it, the very idea of federal funding for “something called ‘volcano monitoring'” is on its face silly.

If this is what Jindal, a governor of state ravaged by natural disasters, calls “wasteful,” he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.