The US government shutdown a few days ago and it has already begun to have a severe impact on people's lives and potentially the stability of the US economy if it continues much longer. This is not a political blog (although I am interested in such things sometimes) so I thought I would take a brief look at how it will effect volcanology. First things first, potentially one of the most obvious effects, the Smithsonian institution is closed which means no more volcanic updates. This also includes the weekly volcanic update which I am sure most agree is an invaluable source of reliable information on present eruptions, something which will not occur until this shutdown ends.
What about national parks? Log on to the National Park Service website and the message on the right appears - all national parks are closed, this includes valuable tourist destinations such as Yellowstone National Park (to my knowledge anyway!). The wonderful natural attractions which support so many jobs and attract many tourists will not be able to be visited. I am certainly glad that I got my visit in earlier in the summer! It is not also the national parks which are affected but the Volcanic Observatory's as well. The following is taken from the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory website:
The U.S. Volcano Observatories will remain operational during the lapse of federal government appropriations. Basic volcano monitoring will continue, as will forecasts and regular updates of volcanic activity. However, because of reduced staff, instrument network maintenance will cease, meaning that our monitoring capability will degrade over time. This website will remain functional, but only those pages containing information about current volcano hazards will be maintained.
Reading between the lines, what does this statement mean? Well first things first, volcano monitoring will continue so air traffic updates will continue keeping aircraft safe and people in case of an event or a change in hazard status (no need to worry on that point then!). An increased workload for employees will likely however be an undesired effect. Volcanic monitoring instruments often need frequent calibration, checking or repair to keep them sending reliable information to observatory's, as such the shorter the shutdown the better. However, the longer it continues the number of instruments in operation will decline but also the reliability of the data which will not only be bad for science (i.e. less science will be done with a reduction in instruments and quality of data) but bad for volcano monitoring. Of course after the shutdown ends, whenever that might be, it will take longer to repair or check equipment and generally get up and running again. I certainly detect a bitter undertone in the statement directed at the US government as it will likely create a large backlog of work.
Here's to hoping the shutdown ends soon for more reasons than just volcanological!