Mount St. Helens Rising?

May 18, 1980 – a postcard spring morning. Getting ready for work and listening to relentless chatter of birds, I hurried so I could take the long way to work and enjoy a few extra minutes outside. Just before 8:30 I closed the patio door and sensed something out of place. It took a few seconds to register – it was silent, completely and utterly quite, not a chirp or flutter. It was as if the birds had vanished. A few hours later I heard Mount St. Helens had erupted at 8;32 am.

I can’t say I heard the “boom” or felt tremors from the largest volcanic eruption in American history. Scores of local residents reported hearing the shock wave despite a distance of over 500 Km. All I know for a fact is that bird activity came to a stand still just before eruption.

Fifty seven people perished,  the largest land slide in recorded history buried rivers, roads and train tracks to a depth of 600 feet. When all was said and done – St. Helens lost 1,300 feet in elevation, and devastated an area of 200 square miles. Ash rose 12 miles upwards, darkening skies and causing street lights to come on 300 miles away in Spokane Washington.

Last week the Cascades Volcanic Observatory released reports of St. Helens stirring, specifically indications of magma re-pressurization. Increased uplift and seismic activity remind us it will happen again. The information bulletin wasn’t a warning of immediate danger – an eruption isn’t expected anytime soon.

On clear days we can see Mt. Baker in Washington State, sometimes puffs of smoke rise from the ice covered peak. Mt. Rainier hasn’t erupted for 500 years and is considered as active as Baker or St. Helens. The “ring of fire” surrounding the Pacific Ocean basin accounts for most of the world’s seismic activity, boasting 452 volcanoes and 75% of Earth’s volcanic eruptions.

Photo – Cascades Volcanic Observatory – St. Helens eruption

Impossible to predict or prevent all we can do is prepare. Waiting until the birds fall silent doesn’t make a lot of sense.


Delicate Balance

What better way to start the new year than with a ponder. Something to think about, talk about, learn more about.

Scientists from Harvard and GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research,  have announced that melting ice due to global warming,  effects volcanic activity. Water is heavy; as it flows to and collects in our oceans, extraordinary pressure is put on the tectonic plates. In a nutshell – continents get lighter, oceans heavier.  By looking at core samples up to a million years old, evidence of volcanic ash were present in times of warmer climates. The conclusion being; extra pressure forced more magma towards the surface.

Climate change is not the hot topic it was a few years ago. Al Gore has faded from the talk show and speaker for hire circuit. In 2011 Stephen Harper pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol; an international agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions. Certainly a move that sent a jubilant cry throughout the “oil sands” in his home province of Alberta. Big business has settled nicely into the practice of trading carbon credits. Global warming came as a boom for the plastics industry; it created “environmental awareness” demanding millions of recycling bins. Ironic that plastic production is one of the worst offenders, not to mention the millions of barrels of oil required.

Life is a delicate balance; every action has a reaction. Life could not exist without a precise natural order. Cycles of climate change are part of that order. Are greenhouse gasses speeding up the process? Who can say for sure.

I look at it much like the “dust bowl’ in the 1930’s. Credited as the worst man made disaster in North America. A natural ten year cycle of drought occurred; the problem was, poor farming practices had stripped the great plains of grass. With natural grass gone, along with the 5 foot root system that kept soil in place – the plains simply blew away.

Global warming is a natural occurrence, charging full speed towards modern greed and indifference. Glaciers and the ice shelf are melting faster than they can be replenished. Ocean levels will rise, weather will become increasingly severe, and it seems volcanic activity will increase. Taking the lesson of dust bowl farmers; we can’t stop natural cycles, but can take steps to soften their impact.

Jacobshavn Glacier retreat lines

Jacobshavn Glacier retreat: The rapidly retreating Jakobshavn Glacier in western Greenland drains the central ice sheet. This image shows the glacier in 2001, flowing from upper right to lower left. Terminus locations before 2001 were determined by surveys and more recent contours were derived from Landsat data. The recent stages of retreat have widened the ice front, placing more of the glacier in contact with the ocean. Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory, Cindy Starr, based on data from Ole Bennike and Anker Weidick (Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland) and Landsat data.