Is Mount St. Helens starting to wake up? It was 10 years ago this week that the volcano in Washington State roared awoke from a nearly 20 year ecological sleep. The news media and nature enthusiasts grouped at Johnston Ridge, which is the nearest road with a view of the crater. Ash and steam explosions flew thousands of feet up in the air, and for quite a few weeks, the region around Mount St. Helens was shut down due to concerns of safety.
As the next three years passed, a second lava dome began to slowly appear in the basin, finally rising nearly 1,080 feet above the floor of the Mount St. Helens cavern. When the eruption had finally ended in 2008, hikers had already been permitted back around the volcano and media attention had waned.
Now, 10 years later, even though the mountain is not receiving a lot of press at the present time, scientists who work at the United States Geological Survey are not letting the anniversary go by without any attention. They want the public to know about new eruptions and that there has been fresh eruption warning technology installed around the volcano in the past decade. This is all because Mount St. Helens will continue to rebuild itself. However, that does not answer the question of is Mount St. Helens starting to wake up?
Dan Dzurisin, who works as a USGS geologist wants the public to realize that the mountain is forever changing. He explained that just because the lava dome has not seen any kind of eruption since 2008, that does not mean anything. Mount St. Helens is always changing shape. He added that as the volcano cooled, parts of it fractured, settled and then broke apart.
About five miles below the volcano, there has been recent action in the chamber where magna is made. It appears to be recharging. Dr. Dzurisin noted that the USGS has started focusing on the degree of recharging and if the the magma is able to recompress inside the chamber, instead of starting to flow to the surface of the Earth.
In September of 2004, the USGS only had one piece of equipment placed near Mount St. Helens. It was able to perform during the eruption but since there was only one, when an explosion occurred about three days later, the device was destroyed. Dr. Dzurisin explained that caused the USGS to become extremely creative with how to get instruments in close but also in safer areas. They even came up with a way to drop a seismometer from a helicopter.
Since that time, the organization has put in various different pieces of equipment such as GPS receivers, data recorders and remote cameras. Information from all these devices allow the USGS to gather data about the volcano without putting researchers in harm’s way. It is believed that Mount St. Helens is preparing to erupt again and it could happen within a few years to a couple of decades, noted Dr. Dzurisin. However, he does not believe it will be to the extent of the massive eruption of the one in 1980.
When it did go off on May 18 of that year, the United States was witness to the worst volcanic disaster it had ever experienced in modern times. The eruption destroyed miles of land around it. There were reports stating that at least 50 people were killed. Over 250 homes destroyed along with nearly 50 bridges, almost 190 miles of highways and nearly 20 miles of railway tracks were also destroyed.
The eruption also caused a reduction in the elevation of the mountain from around 9,700 feet to about 8,370 feet. However, the shattering effect of Mount St. Helens did help bring about advancements in technology that aided scientists in creating tools that could better investigate and monitor for potential eruptions. These devices will be able to let scientists know if Mount St. Helens is starting to wake up.
By Kimberly Ruble