VolcanoCam keeps the public's eye on Mount St. Helens

VolcanoCam keeps eye on Mount St. Helens

Although people have fled the area surrounding Mount St. Helens, the Forest Service's VolcanoCam continues to keep watch on the rumbling mountain outside Amboy, Wash.

'The VolcanoCam is now the closest camera of any type to Mount St. Helens,' said Dennis Lapcewich, the service's webmaster for the Pacific Northwest region. Every five minutes, a Forest Service Web page posts a new picture from the camera. Not surprisingly, the Agriculture Department agency's servers have been inundated with requests.

The volcano has been threatening to erupt since late last week. On Oct. 2, the Geological Survey issued a Level III Volcano Alert, which precipitated the evacuation of Gifford Pinchot National Forest Park, where the crater is located. Early Sunday morning, the mountain shook with minor tremors'an indication that gushes of magma are probably forthcoming.Prior to the hubbub surrounding the volcano, the VolcanoCam averaged about 50,000 hits a month. Early last week, the hits jumped to more than 75,000 a day, Lapcewich said.

'I'm getting emails from teachers and students all over the world who think it's wonderful. They can see Mt. Saint Helens as it occurs,' Lapcewich said.
Housed in a weatherproof box, the webcamera sits outside the park's Johnston Ridge Observatory, which is located about five miles from Mount St. Helens.

The new Sanyo VCC4594 sends live video to a Pentium III surplus server located at the facility. Every five minutes, the server slices a still image file from the video stream and relays it to the Forest Service's Web servers, which are mirrored in various locations by Akamai Technologies Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.

The service first began using VolcanoCam six years ago. It took the camera offline in 2002 because of equipment failure. The high attitudes and wind-blown volcanic ash takes its toll on all outdoor equipment, Lapcewich said.

The replacement camera, set up late last month, was funded by contributions by the Northwest Interpretive Association, a Mount St. Helen business organization. The VolvanoCam site receives no direct funding from the Forest Service, though the agency supports the effort on its infrastructure.

The site also uses a Web service from the Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department that serves the sunset and sunrise time.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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