Pinatubo and Other Volcanoes With Attitude

EVEN AS MAKE-BELIEVE MOUNTAINS ERUPT ON MOVIE SCREENS, 550 REAL PEAKS CONTINUE TO SMOLDER WORLDWIDE

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This dilemma is typical of volcanology as a whole: more and more, researchers are realizing that the degree of protection their science can offer will be directly linked to the amount of money it receives. The USGS volcano program has been getting by on what in Big Science is a starvation ration: $17 million annually. Next year even that will be slashed by $2 million. The USGS's volcano swat team carries out its volcanic smoke jumping on a budget of just $750,000 a year.

Nobody pretends this is enough to sustain global volcano work, and while a few countries have monitoring programs of their own, many of the Third World nations that are in the greatest danger are the least economically equipped to address it. The U.S. thus finds itself in a familiar leadership role at a time when its own federal budget is under growing pressure. At the USGS researchers can only hope that the funds for their work don't disappear before they have a chance to warn the world of the next volcanic disaster.

"Volcanoes are enthralling," says Smithsonian Institution volcanologist Richard Fiske. "You can't stop them. You can't control them. All society can do is learn to coexist with them."

--Reported by Dan Cray/Los Angeles and Dick Thompson/Menlo Park, with other bureaus

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