Thursday, September 30, 2004

A sleeping giant is stirring

Most news services reported yesterday that the USGS has issued a "volcanic advisory" for Mount St. Helens, the most famous of 6 active volcanoes in Washington state.

I grew up in Washington state and I was 3 years old when Mount St. Helens blew in 1980. I don't remember much of it because I was so young and because I lived in the least impacted part of the state. However, volcanoes were always a big part of our science curriculum and they've always fascinated me. I was watching Nova on PBS a couple weeks ago and they had a special on volcanoes and how the USGS monitors them for seismic and magmetic activity. It's amazing how they can pick up on the smallest of tremors and even the slightest shifting of the mountain, then use that information to try to predict erruptions and other volcanic events.

It sounds like the recent activity at Mount St. Helens is likely leading up to some sort of volcanic event, but nothing like the catastrophic event of May 18, 1980. What's interesting is that Mount Rainier and Mount Baker pose a much bigger threat to the Seattle/Puget Sound region, should another catastrophic erruption occur. Rainier has the largest glacial load of any peak in the lower 48, and Baker has it's fair share of glacial coverage, too. If those glaciers melt and/or a debris avalance occurs, it will mean big trouble for the river valleys coming off those mountains. My hometown is in the Skagit River valley and it would be in deep doo-doo should Baker errupt because the debris avalance and glacier melt would likely cause Baker Dam to fail (unless they had enough warning to be able to lower the level of the lake in time). Scary thought. Let's hope that guy on Nova gets his erruption prediction model fine tuned.

Back-to-back-to-back hurricanes in Florida, earthquakes in central California, and now volcanic activity in Washington state...this season Mother Nature sure seems determined to make us aware of how much we are at her mercy.

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