Pictured is Mount Rainier with all the current and proposed lahar monitoring systems. The green dots show where there are already monitoring stations; the blue dots show proposed stations that have already been approved by the National Park System; and the orange dots are the dozen proposed monitoring stations that the national park wants public input on. Image courtesy National Park Service

Pictured is Mount Rainier with all the current and proposed lahar monitoring systems. The green dots show where there are already monitoring stations; the blue dots show proposed stations that have already been approved by the National Park System; and the orange dots are the dozen proposed monitoring stations that the national park wants public input on. Image courtesy National Park Service

New lahar monitoring systems proposed for Mount Rainier

These new monitoring systems could affect the picturesque quality of the national park, and Mount Rainier wants your opinion on the project.

Mount Rainier National Park is looking for public input on a dozen proposed volcano monitoring stations on the the Plateau’s most famous icon.

The announcement was made Oct. 5, and public input will be accepted through Oct. 30.

For those not in the know, Mount Rainier is an active volcano, and lahars (volcanic mudslides) are the primary hazard that could impact people living, working, or recreating within or near the national park.

“The proposed lahar detection system would help us to install a world-class, real-time monitoring network to detect the earliest signs of unrest,” Seth Moran, scientist-in-charge at the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory, said in a press release.

The town of Orting can have as little as 40 minutes of warning if a lahar is headed its way – the new stations, Moran said in a recent email interview, “would enable earlier detection of large lahars relative to the lahar detection network that is currently in place on the Puyallup and Carbon Rivers.”

Additionally, “the new monitoring stations would allow for the detection of smaller events that present a hazard primarily to users of Mount Rainier National Park,” allowing first responders to more quickly mobilize, Moran continued.

Currently, the mountain sports 13 seismic and six Global Positioning System (GPS) installations located within 12 miles of the volcano’s summit.

Another five proposed monitoring stations, to be built within the national park’s administrative area, have already been approved by the National Park System.

However, a further 12 proposed monitoring stations “have the potential to affect historic properties or wilderness character within Mount Rainier National Park”, the press release read, hence the need for public input.

The whole project encompasses installing 35 new monitoring installations, including the 12 inside the national park. USGS has received nearly $12 million in appropriations for the whole project between 2017 and 2020, but will need more money to the tune of 2020’s appropriations to finish off this project and others elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

The 12 proposed installations would be located at or near Tolmie Peak, Fremont Lookout Tower, Shriner Peak, Emerald Ridge, Mount Wow, Mount Ararat, Gobblers Knob, Mildred Point, Copper Mountain, Tahoma Vista, Tahoma Bridge (vicinity) and the Paradise Parking lot, said Teri Tucker, an environmental protection specialist with the National Park Service.

“We are particularly interested in hearing input from people that will help us to evaluate the proposal in the upcoming environmental assessment,” Tucker continued. “This may include any information that people would like the NPS to consider regarding the proposed monitoring and lahar detection system within Mount Rainier National Park, information about how the proposal may affect their use of the park, potential alternatives to the proposed monitoring system, or existing data that people would recommend the park consider in making this decision.”

Tucker added that this is not the only opportunity for folks to give their opinion on the project – after these comments are taken, an environmental assessment through the National Environmental Policy Act will be written and made available to the public this winter.

The National Park Service is then expected to hand down a decision about these new monitoring stations by early spring of 2021.

“If the current proposal to install 12 new stations inside the Park is approved, the USGS would anticipate installing those stations in the fall of 2021,” Moran said. “The USGS goal is to have all sites installed and operational by the end of 2023.”

For interactive maps showing where Mount Rainier’s current monitoring stations are and where the proposed stations will go, head to https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/a91bc77edd974764ba823c65122dd1ce.

For more information about the overall project, or to comment on the project, head to https://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectId=95553.


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