Many people in the Pacific Northwest watch Mount St. Helens with anticipation, wondering if it will erupt again. Fortunately for those in the area, it seems that scientists may have found a new way to predict if the volcano is nearing eruption. Seismologists have discovered a massive secondary magma chamber hidden deep beneath Mount St. Helens that may actually be the supplier of magma not only to Mt. St. Helens, but also nearby volcanoes such as Mount Adams. The scientists note that a previously unexplained series of earthquakes occurred near the secondary magma chamber location prior to the massive 1980 eruption that killed 57 people. The seismologists now believe that those earthquakes were an indicator that the massive magma chamber was pumping magma to the smaller chamber beneath the earthquake. Therefore, it was noted that any earthquake activity along that same line should be deemed as potential magma movement between the larger lower magma chamber and the upper chamber.
Science Mag reports that seismologists have uncovered new information about the Pacific Northwest’s most active volcano, Mount St. Helens. The scientists used seismometers and ground level explosives to pick up reflections beneath the surface. The scientists then used the data to paint a three-dimensional picture of the magma chambers beneath Mount St. Helens. What the scientists uncovered was more than they could have imagined but not far-fetched. Alan Levander, a geophysicist at Rice University, led the experiment and noted that “it isn’t a stretch” to think that a massive magma chamber existed below the surface.
“It isn’t a stretch to say that there’s something down there feeding everything.”
However, what Levander found was proof of that the idea was viable. The team discovered a vast magma chamber between 12 and 40 kilometers below the surface. The smaller already known chamber is located 5 to 12 kilometers below the surface and supplies Mt. St. Helens directly with her magma. However, what the scientists learned through the new experiment is that the smaller upper magma chamber is likely supplied with its magma from the larger, deeper lower magma chamber.
The new research also sheds light on a series of previously unexplained earthquakes that led up to the 1980 Mount St. Helen’s eruption. The earthquakes took place along the line that connects the lower chamber to the upper chamber.
“We can only now understand that those earthquakes are connecting those magma reservoirs. They could be an indication that you have migration of fluid between the two bodies.”
Therefore, Levander claims that scientists will be heavily monitoring for seismic activity in those regions which could possibly indicate that the lower chamber was once again feeding the upper chamber. Should the magma begin to flow to the upper chamber once more, energy may be built in the upper chamber which would result in another explosion.
According to the Daily Mail, it isn’t just the Mount St. Helens volcano that may be supplied magma by the large lower chamber. Another active volcano in the region, Mount Adams may also obtain its magma from the lower chamber that is evidently supplying Mt. St. Helens. Therefore, scientists may be able to use the study of the lower chamber as a means to determine if an event is about to take place at the secondary volcano site as well. In addition to Mount Adams, the magma chamber also appears to be connected with a a set of dormant volcanoes called the Indian Heaven volcanic field near the Mt. St. Helens site.
What do you think about the Mount St. Helens research? Do you think the discovery of the massive magma chamber will help scientists better predict future eruptions?
[Photo by Greg Wahl-Stephens/Getty Images]