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The next big California earthquake? What about the next California volcano?

The next big earthquake. Wildfire perils. Steph Curry breaking both ankles simultaneously. California definitely has its share of potential disasters – but one you might not normally think of involves volcanoes.

Give Andy Calvert a few minutes, and maybe he can change that. Calvert is the scientist-in-charge at the California Volcano Observatory in Menlo Park and Moffett Field, a U.S. Geological Survey facility that studies local volcanoes. Yes, they exist: The early-1900s eruption of Lassen Peak devastated the surrounding region and spread ash all the way to Nevada. Eruptions around Mono Lake and Mammoth Mountain occurred relatively recently between 300 to 600 years ago, and Mount Shasta went off about 3,000 years ago and is very capable of a repeat.

“All of these volcanoes will erupt again. Whether it’s in our lifetimes or not is uncertain,” says Calvert. “It’s not something all Californians need to worry about, but it is important enough to fund scientists to keep an eye out. We’re keeping an eye on it, so you don’t have to, really.”

Calvert found time in between the things researchers do at the observatory – collecting samples, setting up ground instruments, torturing rocks with high heat and pressure at a magma-dynamics lab – to chat about the explosive forces lurking below our feet.

Q: How did you get into this field?

A: I grew up in a small town called Moscow, Idaho. We were hundreds of miles downwind of Mount St. Helens when it erupted in 1980. I was in seventh grade and an inch of ash fell on my front porch, and they canceled school for the rest of year. So I like to say, I’m paying the earth back for getting me out of seventh grade early.

Tthe first rock sample I ever collected was that ash from my front porch. I’ve still got it on my desk – it’s a really fine gray powder, like flour. That eruption was really what taught me the earth was a dynamic place, and it was interesting to study because it’s not just a static background.

Q: That eruption in Washington caused more than $1 billion in damages. Would the economic toll be similar for a California eruption today?

A: I think a billion dollars would be very conservative. Volcanoes, for the most part, are kind of where people aren’t. Like Mount Shasta, they’re scattered on the edges (of major civilization). But they are right next to freeways and some towns. And when they erupt they make a pretty big mess. Mount St. Helens produced about 1 cubic kilometer of material, and they’re actually still dealing with it.

Andy Calvert, Scientist-in-Charge of the California Volcano Observatory, holds a jar of ash from the Mount St. Helens eruption that he collected from his home in Idaho when he a teenager, in his office at the United States Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 1, 2023. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

Q: What are the hotspots for volcanic activity in California?

https://www.mercurynews.com/2023/09/08/meet-the-volcano-scientist-protecting-us-from-the-next-california-eruption/ The next big California earthquake? What about the next California volcano?

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