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United States Science

Mount St. Helens Alert Status Increased 600

DarkHand writes "Mount St. Helens has become even more unstable in the last few hours. The U.S. Geological Surveys Cascades Volcano Observatory has increased the volcanic alert around the volcano to level 2 and released a press release: 'Over night, seismic activity at Mount St. Helens has accelerated significantly, which increases our level of concern that current unrest could culminate in an eruption. We are increasing the alert level to the second of three levels [...]. Earthquakes are occurring at about four per minute. The largest events are approaching Magnitude 2.5 and they are becoming more frequent. All are still at shallow levels in and below the lava dome that grew in the crater between 1980 and 1986. This suggests that the ongoing intense earthquake activity has weakened the dome, increasing the likelihood of explosions or perhaps the extrusion of lava from the dome.' The most recent readings at the SEP seismograph stationed on the lava dome itself are totally saturated. The ground is now literally constantly rumbling."
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Mount St. Helens Alert Status Increased

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  • How severe? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sdo1 ( 213835 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @09:36AM (#10393580) Journal
    What I don't get out of any of the reports I've read is how severe of an eruption is possible here. Could it be massive like the big one that blew the side off of the mountain or are we in for a little puff (or as little as little can be on a volcanic scale)? Or do they just not know?

  • by Cade144 ( 553696 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @09:43AM (#10393664) Homepage
    I was there about ten years ago, with a college field trip. Being from the Midwest, I haddn't seen any real volcanos until then. I was looking forward to seeing the terrific devistation and other formations left by the 1980 eruptions.
    While driving up the windy mountin road to get to the park, our van turned a bend, and suddenly I saw before me a swath of devistation so utterly complete that I knew only some tremendous force could have removed all the trees and other signs of life.
    I asked the "vetrans" of the group if we had reached the blast zone already. They responded: "Nope, that's just a clearcut. The blast zone now has much more wildlife."
    Ah well. I was just there to look at the rocks anyway.
  • by J-bob2 ( 219807 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @09:44AM (#10393688)
    I couldn't help but wonder if the two are related? Is Mt. St. Helens related to the the quake in California on Tuesday? They're in that same general fault line aren't they?

    Can anyone who knows more about Earth Science help me out here?

  • Some people (Score:4, Interesting)

    by deathcloset ( 626704 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @09:45AM (#10393698) Journal
    I was three years old when St. Helens blew in 1980 (anyone feel old yet?).

    Our family lived in Northern Idaho, and my father likes to recount how the hardware store was full of people buying masks and resperators and whatnot. He tells of how the supermarket was jam-packed with people stockpiling for the apocalypse.

    He was getting a little nervous, but on his drive home he saw our neighbor (we lived out in the country), a farmer named Mr.Coon, just trolling about on his tractor under the bloody sun and darkened sky;doing his daily work, acting like it was just another day.

    My father was then able to relax a bit.
  • by invisik ( 227250 ) * on Thursday September 30, 2004 @09:47AM (#10393732) Homepage
    Having never been there myself, it would be cool to see before and after shots of the area in the event of an eruption. Any one out there listening?

  • by bhima ( 46039 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (avadnaP.amihB)> on Thursday September 30, 2004 @09:53AM (#10393805) Journal
    The before & after shots of the 1980 eruption were nothing short of stuning. They had a slow motion film at school that also was amazing.

    So hopefully this potential eruption will be better covered and less harmful.

  • Media coverage... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Aceto3for5 ( 806224 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @09:54AM (#10393812)
    You know that news outlets around the country are hard at work making the on screen volcano graphics, lining up siesmologists, and all the siesmologists are picking out ties to look nice for TV. News writers are looking up lava, volcano, and erupt in the thesaurus. I dunno, maybe im too cynical for my own good. I cant help but think, people die in these sort of things. It is interesting scientifically, and historically, but if I see one flashy graphic on fox or msnbc like "Fire in the hole", "Go with the flow", or "Magma-nificent" Im gonna go back to reading books.
  • by RCulpepper ( 99864 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @09:55AM (#10393834)
    Google 'Yellowstone volcano.' In one of the two or three times I favored my intro to geology class with my presence, my professor explained that much of Yellowstone National Park is the caldera of a giant volcano, according to him the largest on earth, hence the geysers and sulfurous springs. If it were to erupt again -- fortunately it does so rarely, about once every 600k years -- it would cover most of the Western US in ash and if it did so without warning, would kill millions of people.
  • by amichalo ( 132545 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @09:57AM (#10393855)
    When up on Mt. Rainier (over looks Seattle) we were told by guides that Mt. Rainier was a much larger active volcano with far more devistating potential than St. Helens because of both it's size and proximity to Seattle.

    Does the activity at St. Helens make Mt. Rainier and more or less likely to also erupt?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 30, 2004 @10:01AM (#10393896)
    I just hope this won't trigger any activity for a Yellowstone supervolcanic eruption [].
  • by Sam Treadwell ( 602609 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @10:02AM (#10393906)
    I hiked there about 2 weeks ago, on Boundary Trail #1 and 207a, which runs along the base of the mountain and Spirit Lake. Got some great photos. Sometimes it is great living near a volcano. heh.

    Here is a fairly large panoramic we took that day. You can see Johnston Ridge Observatory on the far right. The trail actually takes you across the ridges on the left and then drops you down in to the flats at the base of the mountain: []

  • Lahars (Score:5, Interesting)

    by esoterus ( 66707 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `suretose'> on Thursday September 30, 2004 @10:03AM (#10393925) Homepage
    One of the more reassuring things about St Helens blowing is that it has already done so. It has a nice crater to keep things fairly contained and no glaciers. Mt Rainier is another story, however. It is also a volcano, has the most permanent glaciers on it of any mountain in the continental US and if it blows, the true danger is what happens to those glaciers at eruption. It's known as a lahar.

    I read something similar to this once: To get an idea of a lahar, imagine a 30 ft wall of mud, boiling in temperature with the consistency of wet cement traveling at speeds up to 60 mph or so. If you go driving through the river valleys of Washington State (Carbon Rv, Puyallup Rv) that are fed by the Rainier glaciers, you'll see Lahar evacuation route signs everywhere. Not only that, but I believe recent evacuation simulations have been abysmal. Scary stuff.

    Ahh, may have found the article [] that I read.

  • Re:memo to self (Score:3, Interesting)

    by at_18 ( 224304 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @10:09AM (#10393984) Journal
    You mean like the 300,000+ people who live on mount Vesuvio []?
  • by boskone ( 234014 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @10:10AM (#10394000)
    I clearly remember 1980. It was pretty neat and scary. Although it happened on Sunday, so we didn't get that day off of school. I think school was closed for several days afterwards. Some tidbits that you may find boring or interesting...

    Ash was so fine (there was several inches on the street) that it would ruin your engine. So everyone put women's pantyhose over their air cleaners to keep the dirt out. Also the local timber company bought out the auto parts stores of all the extra air cleaners to keep their trucks moving.

    people kept emergency supplies in their car trunks for years after that. probably until 86 or 87

    Also, their were some great slogans on bumper stickers and t-shirts that we'll revive if necessary.

    "Mt St. Helen's lost her ash in 1980, I saved mine."

    Plus the song about harry truman was popular.

    wow, amazing what you can remember...
  • by redbaron7 ( 577469 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @10:14AM (#10394040) Homepage

    Although both Mt Rainier, Mt St Helens, and all the other dormant and volcanoes in Washington and Oregon are due to the same subduction zone; an eruption at Mt St Helens will not influence Rainier in any way.

    The USGS is currently predicting a high likelihood of Rainier experiencing a small eruption in the next 50 years. This will melt Rainier's icecap and produce lahar flows (heavy, fast mud flows - these will take out bridges and buildings). The outskirts of Seattle are built on the deposits of old lahars from Rainier...

    Early this year, a warning system (a bit like the tsunami system in the Pacific) has been put in place between Rainier and Seattle. This should give warning of lahars as they start. This could give enough warning to get people out of valley bottoms, etc - but how much of the populace knows what a lahar is and what the danger is???

    Incidentally, a couple of days ago, I plotted the ongoing Mt St Helens earthquake swarm on some earthquake hazard maps and put the results here [].

    Richard (yes I was a seismologist 10 years ago)
  • by bcarl314 ( 804900 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @10:16AM (#10394076)
    Not sure if those two are related, but there was an interesting article in Scientific American a few months back that was showing a link between a large earthquack in Alaska and increased geyser eruptions in yellowstone.

    Seems an earthquake 1000s of miles away "jarred the pipes" powering the geysers in yellowstone.

    I don't suppose its out of the realm of possibility that St. Helens is related to the earthquake in CA.
  • by Peyna ( 14792 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @10:32AM (#10394298) Homepage
    USGS info [] on the Yellowstone Volcano.
  • Re:Lahars (Score:3, Interesting)

    by robsimmon ( 462689 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @10:34AM (#10394317)
    In 2002 a massive lahar/avalanche slid down the flanks of a dormant volcano in Russia, killing 125 people. ~135 million cubic meters of ice and rock, moving at 180 kph.

    Collapse of the Kolka Glacier []

  • by Dugsmyname ( 451987 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (keegcirenegeht)> on Thursday September 30, 2004 @10:35AM (#10394323) Homepage
    A friend sent me this link [] to the Mount St. Helens Volcano Cam, updated every 5 minutes from the Johnston Ridge Observatory.
  • Re:Dante II (Score:1, Interesting)

    by vegasbright ( 773629 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @10:43AM (#10394434)
    The movie is actually pretty accurate in a geological sense. One of my geo professors actually reccomended it as a study guide, allbeit one that must be taken w/ a grain of salt.
  • by bobster45 ( 816998 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @11:21AM (#10395040)
    This sound like nonsense to me. First there are forest fires that dump billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, add to this the fossil fuel consumption from industrialized nations and this information about what will happen if volcanoes stop becomes even more laughable. Folks, there is a much higher probability of our environment becoming akin to that of Venus which is hot enough to melt lead because of the huge increase in CO2 caused by man. The carbon cycle will be continuing free of subduction processes' influences. What we really might want to consider is the mechanism for re-sequestration of CO2 is by 2 sources, photsynthesis by plants ability to lock up CO2 in sugars by using the sun's light energy and biotic action in the formation of limestone by mollusks and the like. Man's influence on the atmosphere is tangile and measurable. We have scientific data that confirms this as incontravertable. As for the geologic process having much to do with the carbon cycle, I believe we have little to concern ourselves with. Man's influence far out shadows any geological process that might cause fluctuation of CO2.
  • Re:memo to self (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Glamdrlng ( 654792 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @11:42AM (#10395383)
    As easy as that concept may seem .. people in tornado alley or hurricane central still don't get it.
    We do get it, we just don't give a shit. I love living in florida and I'm not leaving because of a couple storms. For those who are moving away, go! We never wanted you around anyway. The rest of us have enough sack to stick around, and we have enough common sense to go somewhere safe when a storm's coming.
  • I was there... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pedestrian crossing ( 802349 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @12:08PM (#10395475) Homepage Journal

    I was going to college in Moscow, Idaho when it blew, and believe me, it was impressive, even that far away from the eruption.

    Throughout the day a tolkeinesque black cloud grew larger and larger on the western horizon, until it streched all of the way north to south. As it came over it became darker than night, the sky was just black. Then is started to "snow" volcanic ash. Instead of coming down in flakes, it came down as a fine powder, but looking out the window, it looked like snow against the street lights. This was about 3:00 in the afternoon.

    It didn't get light again before nightfall. The next morning, it was as if it had snowed, except it was very finely powdered ash, and it didn't go away like snow, it just compacted and then blew around as dust when the wind blew.

    It was a very memorable experience, more impressive even than a total solar eclipse (but that's another story)...

  • Re:Scary, yet cool. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PenguinBoyDave ( 806137 ) <david@d[ ] ['avi' in gap]> on Thursday September 30, 2004 @12:13PM (#10395512)
    I don't worry about any of it...

    Luke 21:9
    "But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end [is] not by and by.

    Luke 21:10 Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom:

    Luke 21:11 And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.

    Luke 21:12 But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute [you], delivering [you] up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake."

    For those that believe, this is just all part of God's perfect plan.
  • by mikerich ( 120257 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @12:18PM (#10395585)
    However on the west side of the mountain, there was a nuclear power plant on the Columbia river about 50 miles (80 km) away. If the volcano had blown out through the west side of the mountain instead of the north side, there was the serious possiblility that the shock wave would have ruptured the reactor coolant tanks and damaged the control and safety systems. In a worst case, this could have led to the release of radioactive material into the last 50 miles of the Columbia river. The river would have been closed for shipping. Which means that the port of Portland would have been closed, stopping shipment of massive amounts of grain to Asia from the Pacific Northwest. It would have also caused the extinction of the fisheries, such as salmon and steelhead trout in the Columbia.

    It's unlikely that even the most massive eruption from Mt. St. Helens could have threatened the plant. The incredible first lateral blast only travelled 25km and IIRC the pyroclastic flows only extended about 20km. Ashfall would not have been a problem for the plant, and the quakes associated with vulcanism are (Hollywood aside) fairly small.

    In the event, they had a pretty good idea that Mount St. Helens was going to erupt through its side. The area that bulged was called Goat's Roack and was actually the result of an earlier eruption through the side of the cone.

    What no one had predicted was that the whole side of the mountain would slide off []. Instantly a huge section of the magma below the mountain depressurised - like a champagne cork blowing off. And that did the damage.

    What we have now is young magma pushing up under the mountain. We'll probably see a series of small eruptions as the dome is built, extended and then blown apart. We could have centuries of this sort of activity ahead of us.

    The eruption was too bad because Mt. St. Helens was a perfect cone before the eruption. It looked like Mt. Fuji in Japan. Now it looks like a million-seat football stadium: a big hole with a circular ridge around half of it.

    You're not thinking long-term - the cone of Mt. St. Helens was only a few tens of thousands of years old, it will rebuild itself in the next few millennia. In the meantime, sit back and watch the mountain heal itself.

    Best wishes,

  • by Torinaga-Sama ( 189890 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @12:34PM (#10395790) Homepage
    Hopefully it's just overplayed paranoia on the part of the media.

    So far the Vulcanologist at the University of Washington had said it's cool, and they know a bit more about that sort of thing than I do.

    I didn't live here the first time it blew up. I had just turned 5 and living in Florida. All I remember about that time was that it was hot, and someone stole my bike.
  • Re:Lahars (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mangu ( 126918 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @01:06PM (#10396223)
    The worst lahar in the last few centuries happened in Nevado del Ruiz, Colombia [] in 1985. 23000 people died when the town of Armero was buried under the mud flow.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 30, 2004 @02:03PM (#10396984)
    Actually they upgraded to a 3 this morning, four is the highest. Monday on the news this was all no big deal, now the scientists seem a bit nervous. I work in Portland, no hysteria yet, the worry warts are quitely collecting supplies (we did yesterday, depsite living well south of Portland).

    The real danger is a large earthquake or Mt. Hood deciding that being 16,000 years overdue for an eruption is long enough and getting in on the action. The South Sister in Central Oregon has a gigantic bulge at its base, they said that it would go within 10 years, it's been nearly 20. Timberline Ski Resort has been trying to find a buyer lately, if the cost goes down to below $100 we are taking an out of state trip:)

    Moral of the story, have a 72 hour kit, you never know what services will be knocked out in an earthquake or something like this.
  • by nyrk ( 779328 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @05:32PM (#10399139)
    I am from the area, and remeber it vividly. In Elementry school, when we went outside, we had to wear dust masks, and could only play on the concrete area of the playground, because that was all they could get clean. They later removed all the barkdust, and replaced it with new clean barkdust before we could go back on.

    Our family owned some beachfront property on the Toutle River, which is on the Mt. St. Hellens watershed. The mud choked up the river for years, and it was probably 1995 before the beach began to look like it did before the mountain blew.

    The ash and mud would make a jelly-like quicksand on the banks of the river with a thick, flexable layer on the top. You could walk (run, bounce, jump) on the top withoug breaking through until enough water worked into the top layer, then you would break through and sink up to your thighs. Neat stuff, we played in it for years.
  • by avgjoe62 ( 558860 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @05:49PM (#10399268)
    The WTC was designed to withstand the impact of a commercial airliner, but it was contemporary commercial airliners that were designed for, not the ones that would be in the sky 20 or 30 years later.

    Just to be a pedantic idiot, I have to point out that 747s first flew commercially in 1969. The towers were finished in 1972 for Tower One and 1973 for Tower Two.

    The planes that hit were smaller than 747s. The collapse was not caused by the impact of the airliners. The towers collapsed becuase the secondary fires from the collision buckled the steel because the insullation was ripped off in the initial collisions. It was the secondary effects of the collisions that caused the collapse.

    The above is of course splitting hairs, but let's give the architects/engineers some slack. After all, I'm sure that they never designed the towers to survive an intentional collision with an airliner.

That does not compute.