In 1980 Mount Saint Helens erupted, blanketing the countryside with hot ash, and killing 57 people—and scientists are now reporting that once again the magma levels inside the volcano are rising. When Mount Saint Helens first erupted, there were no warning signs that the explosion of gas, lava, and hot ash was about to demolish the surrounding areas. Now, scientists are carefully monitoring the volcano and watching for any sign that an eruption could happen again.
When Mount Saint Helens erupted over 30 years ago, about 230 miles of land, filled with forests and river systems, was utterly destroyed. Over a billion dollars in property damage occurred from the debris that was spread everywhere. A 5.2 magnitude earthquake is blamed for triggering the eruption of the 8,300 square foot volcano. Since that deadly blast, Mount Saint Helens has been quietly erupting on and off. From 2004 to 2008, Mount Saint Helens has had a constant steam eruption that has contributed to the growth of the inside lava dome.
Scientists have placed about 20 seismometers around the mountain, which are able to detect any small movements from the volcano. Over the last five years, scientists have located several points along Mount Saint Helens that have moved away from the center of the crater. Johnston Ridge has moved about half an inch in the past five years. The increase in magma levels inside the volcano is creating an intense pressure, which pushes the existing rock out of its way. As the magma levels rise, the sides of Mount Saint Helens are moving upward and outward and being replaced with a fresh molten rock.
Seth Moran is a seismologist at the Washington Cascade Volcano Observatory. Moran explains the pressure inside Mount Saint Helens is like a balloon that is inflating. Moran says that the balloon could stay inflated for years and its presence inside the volcano does not mean it is ready to erupt. Moran is confident that if Mount Saint Helens were going to erupt, he would know about it beforehand.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has also been closely monitoring the volcano. The USGS observes ground deformation and also seismic activity. The patterns of this refueling pattern are normal for Mount Saint Helens, which was recorded in the 1980’s and 1990’s as a quiet period. Even though the volcano is considered active, it does not indicate that it will erupt anytime soon. This summer, the gravity field and gasses will be measured in order to better predict an eruption.
According to researchers, the rising of Mount Saint Helens magma levels has increased the volcano’s size by the length of a fingertip. However, scientists are confident that the volcano will only continue to rebuild its pointy peak over the next hundred years, and not create another deadly explosion. This time around, every movement of Mount Saint Helens, not just the rising of magma, is being carefully monitored for any signal of trouble. Moran compares himself to the fire department and says they are ready to go within the first signs of trouble.
Opinion By Sara Petersen