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© 2018 Mountains of Fire, by Danielle Carr & Cheyenne Bergenhenegouwen 

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-DR. MELANIE KELMAN
NATURAL RESOURCES CANADA

“Stratovolcanoes, like Mount St. Helens, tend to erupt quite explosively and are much harder to tell when the eruption is going to occur. That means you often don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Dr. Melanie Kelman, head Volcanologist for Natural Resources Canada, said accuracy when monitoring these volcanoes is most important, but scientifically Stratovolcanoes pose a lot of uncertainty.

Recent tremors near Mount St. Helens, in Skamina County Washington, have sparked old concerns with many wondering if she’ll blow again. The owner of the Mount St. Helens Twitter account had a little fun with the news of these recent earthquakes, sparking a frenzy on social media and prompting alarm from the public.

Mount St. Helens

Mount
Baker
Mount
 St. Helens
Mount 
Garibaldi

Will there be a catastrophic volcanic eruption in our lifetime?

“Kind of the rule of thumb, if you see a significant departure from normal that’s a potential sign that you’ve got a volcano that is ready to go.”

SETH MORAN 
CASCADE VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
 

CHEYENNE BERGENHENEGOUWEN

DANIELLE CARR

PRODUCERS
 

 Some of the most dangerous volcanoes sit in our backyard. In the Pacific Northwest Mount Garibaldi rests 130 kilometers North of Vancouver, Mount Baker rumbles only 200 kilometers away, in Washington State. 

Mount Garibaldi and Mount Baker are called Stratovolcanoes. They are two of several Stratovolcanoes that are along the Western Coast of North America.

University of British Columbia (UBC) instructor, Brett Gilley said Stratovolcanoes have a whole series of hazards. The closer you are to a volcano the worse it is. 

“Stratovolcanoes are big and quite terrifying.”

-BRETT GILLEY
UBC SENIOR INSTRUCTOR

PYROCLASTIC FLOWS

A mixture of solid to semi-solid fragments and hot toxic gases that flow at high speeds down a volcano. They are the most deadly of all volcanic phenomena.

Photo Credit: PhotoVolcanica

WHAT HAPPENED

On a sunny day on May 18th, 1980 after months of seismic tremors and steam discharge, Mount St. Helens finally gave way to a deadly eruption.

 

The explosion of rock and molten lava reverberated through the air and could be heard by many in Southwestern British Columbia. 57 people were killed by the eruption. The causes of death include asphyxiation , trauma and injuries caused by the extreme heat.  

 

Earthquakes happen under Mount St. Helens all the time according to Seth Moran, the lead scientist for the Cascade Volcano Observatory part of the United States Geological Society (USGS). 

 

“In December there was a little bit of an uptick and we went from a couple a day to maybe ten or twenty a day."

MOUNT ST. HELENS' FUTURE 

Moran seems to believe so. 

 

"There is a little bit of magma coming back into the system at depths [...] There could be an eruption at Mount St. Helens in the next years to decades.”

Although, Mount St. Helens is in a rebuilding stage, any eruptions that may happen will not be as explosive or catastrophic as in 1980, suggests Moran.

Does this mean an eruption is around the corner? 

MOUNT BAKER

The closest Stratovolcano to the communities in Southwestern B.C is Mount Baker. The towering mountain is daunting and begs the question, what if it erupts?

 

“[It] would put ash in the air and would potentially put  lahars down into the low lying areas of the northern Puget Sound and potentially up into Canada.”

Moran said the potential eruption from Baker would be on a smaller scale than Mount St. Helens’ 1980 eruption.

YELLOWSTONE

The Supervolcano to the South that has the potential to change the world as we know it, is located in Wyoming.

 -MICHAEL POLAND

YELLOWSTONE VOLCANO OBSERVATORY

 

“It’s the largest magmatic system on earth to our knowledge. And it has a long history of really catastrophic eruptions.”

"This is what gives Yellowstone it's cachet. It's got these really large eruptions that happen every several thousands to every several million years."

The Yellowstone volcanic system has had three very large eruptions. One was 2.1 million years ago, another 1.3 million years and the most recent eruption was 600,000 years ago.

 -MICHAEL POLAND

YELLOWSTONE VOLCANO OBSERVATORY

 

Volconologist Melanie Kelman explains there are ways people can prepare for a volcanic eruption.

PREPARING FOR A CATASTROPHE 

The Canadian Red Cross advises having an emergency bag ready with supplies that could last you up to 72 hours in case of an emergency.

“The one thing you can do to prepare for things like that in advance is the same as you would do to prepare for an earthquake or even a bad winter storm.”

Post volcanic eruptions leave a lasting mark on the landscape. When Mount St. Helens erupted countless wildlife were lost, trees were toppled, and the earth was scorched.

 

Hundreds of homes were destroyed, along with eight bridges. The total cost to repair the bridges and roads was $145 million. The environment was forever altered, but nature continues to survive.

LIFE AFTER DISASTER 

“It’s amazing how fast wildlife, trees & bushes have come back.”

 -CINDY COOKE

 

“There have been two eruptions that happened while humans have been on the planet, larger than Yellowstone's last eruption, and we’re still here.”

 -MICHAEL POLAND

YELLOWSTONE VOLCANO OBSERVATORY

 

Supervolcanoes like Yellowstone have been portrayed in movies and the media as cataclysmic disasters that could end life as we know it. But Volcanologist, Michael Poland is optimistic about the future. 

It is a common belief that the big earthquake, expected to hit along the Cascadia subduction zone, may set off the volcanoes that sit along the mountain range.

 

This earthquake would have a substantial impact on the Pacific Northwest.

 

Seth Moran says this is a frequent misconception and says this would only happen in very specific instances.

When the Big Earthquake Hits

“The way I like to think of it is a volcano isn’t already ready to erupt. There isn’t already magma in it’s system and an earthquake isn’t going to change that.

 

The instances where there have been eruptions right after a large earthquake, those volcanoes have already had something in their system and they were already primed and ready to go.”

 -SETH MORAN

CASCADE VOLCANO OBSERVATORY