Skip to content
Guest Thinkers

Additional monitoring proposed for Newberry Caldera in Oregon

If you could pick as close to an anonymous volcano in the Pacific Northwest, you might be tempted to pick Newberry Caldera in Oregon (I might also take partial credit for picking Medicine Lake in California). Newberry is a caldera volcano (and National Volcanic Monument) surrounded by smaller scoria cones and lava flows – and it hosted one of the more impressive rhyolite domes on the west coast, the aptly named “Big Obsidian Flow” (that you can hike in and around). The Big Obsidian Flow (see top left) is the most recent eruption at Newberry, occuring ~1,300 years ago. The volcano has experienced thousands of eruptions of the last 600,000 years and a number of VEI 3-4 eruptions in the past 10,000 years, which means that Newberry is far from “extinct” as volcanoes go. The caldera is a popular tourist destination, with Paulina and East Lakes within the caldera, separated by lava flows within the caldera itself. Combined with the volcano’s proximity to ever-growing Bend, you would think that Newberry volcano should be closely watched for any signs of new activity. However, there isn’t much in the way of monitoring of the volcano – only one station for the entire caldera.

The USGS and the Cascades Volcano Observatory would like to change this over the summer. They hope to add 8 seismometers and GPS monitoring to the volcano pending ~$225,000 of funding to set up the stations. That should be chump change even in this financial climate considering the costs related to a potential eruption of Newberry. As Dr. Cynthia Gardner of the USGS/CVO puts it, Newberry is “a big honking volcano and it deserves more than we have on it right now.

Newberry has also been in the news as a potential source of geothermal energy in central Oregon. So far, no prospect had lead to establishing a geothermal plant, but one might expect that the heat flow near Newberry should be a good source for geothermal energy.

If you’re curious of what the hazards to the area by a possible eruption by Newberry volcano, check out the 1997 hazard report put out by the USGS, which includes a nice map of potential hazards. 

Top left: An undated image of the Big Obsidian Flow in Newberry Caldera, Oregon.


Up Next