Mt. Saint Helens was a surprise for scientists 35 years ago; now they’re trying to figure out which volcano from the Cascades is next. For a few researchers, one mountain in particular poses a threat.
Mt. Saint Helens’ volcanic eruption recently hit its 35th anniversary, but eruption might not be the right word.
KATU explained that the iconic volcano didn’t just erupt, it exploded. It sent a wall of super-heated rock and mud outwards into the Cascades, killing 57 people.
Volcanologist Mike Dungan explained that the incident changed the way people thought about volcanoes, and it will happen again.
“It’s only a matter of a short time – decades or something – before another one of these things occurs. A sector collapse eruption like Mt. Saint Helens – it will happen again in the Cascades.”
Now the question is: which volcano is next? (There are 20 major volcanoes in the Cascades).
One volcano that has scientists worried is Glacier Peak. The mountain sits in the northern Cascade Mountains, according to USA Today. Unlike many other volcanoes lining the mountain range, Glacier Peak cannot be seen from Seattle or Interstate 5.
Despite being tucked away, it’s dangerous because of its size and history.
Geologist Jim Vallance says that some of the volcano’s past eruptions have been violent and left ash as far away as the Irish Peat Bogs. Only Mt. Saint Helens and Glacier Peak have had large eruptions in the past 15,000 years.
Vallance explained, “as impressive as it was, Mt. Saint Helens was actually hundreds of feet shorter than Glacier Peak.”
Unlike Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Rainer, also considered a potentially dangerous volcano, Glacier Peak is not heavily equipped with sensors, nor do researchers understand that much about it.
When volcanoes erupt and suddenly melt off their glacier ice, they pick up a lot of fine dirt and other debris and create what’s called a lahar.
There’s evidence that Glacier Peak’s past lahars reached as far as Burlington, Washington, roughly 60 miles away. Despite the potential danger, there’s only one seismometer on the mountain.
Geophysicist Ben Pauk will change that starting next year, according to King 5 News.
He plans to install four boxes on the mountain, each will contain a sensitive seismometer, global positioning antennas, and other sensors.
Pauk explained that a low-level, but constant, seismic rumbling preceded the Saint Helens’ smaller eruption in 2004, which is valuable information.
“It’s going to generate what’s called volcanic tremor. So the ground is just constantly shaking. And that gives us a really good indication of what type of eruption is going to occur.”
For the nearby town of Darrington, an eruption from Glacier Peak would be deadly, but it’s hard to say when it will happen.
Vallance explained, “It could be this year or a thousand years.”
For residents near the Cascades volcanoes, that’s probably not too reassuring.
[Image Credit: Walter Siegmund/Wikimedia Commons]