New funding for the Alaska Volcano Observatory will bring the organization’s equipment into the 21st century.

The observatory is a joint program between the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute and the Alaska Division of Geographical and Geophysical Surveys and it’s currently using aging and outdated equipment. A $12 million budget increase from the USGS will hire more staff and purchase new digital equipment.

“Basically, this is taking us a very big step out of the 1970s and into the modern era,” said Jeff Freymueller, coordinating scientist for the observatory and a geophysics professor at the UAF Geophysical Institute. “The analog equipment that we were using would be fully recognizable to an early 1970s field seismologist.”

AVO monitors 33 of the 52 historically active Alaskan volcanoes, but due to funding cuts, almost half of its networks are either impaired or inoperable. The analog equipment often collects data that doesn’t reflect actual events, making it more difficult to predict volcanic activity. Digital machines capture more types of data about the movement of the ground that help seismologists differentiate between false alarms and actual volcanic signals.

“It is a little bit like trading in your ratty old pair of glasses, where you can’t see very well, for a new pair that you can use to see more clearly. That doesn’t solve all your problems, but it does make everything easier,” Freymueller said.

The big payoff from the new equipment will be in the future after scientists analyze several years’ worth of data and create better monitoring tool and eruption models.

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