Will new magma discoveries cause Mt. St. Helens to erupt again?
Novel research techniques have found new pockets of magma below the volcano, but that doesn't mean it will erupt. Yet.
A finding disclosed earlier this month at an annual Geological Society of America conference raised fears for many that Mount St. Helens will erupt again.
A detailed study conducted through the Universities of Washington and Oregon showed some magma in subterranean reservoirs beneath the mountain.
But scientists are now clarifying the presence of magma alone doesn’t mean an eruption is imminent, contrary to some media reports published last week.
Mount St. Helens is located less than 200 miles from Seattle, and many in the state of Washington still remember the mountain's devastating 1980 eruption.
The study, called “Imaging Magma Under St. Helens,” or iMUSH, did reveal three enormous pockets of magma, also known as melt, below and east of the mountain, but the amount is not significant enough to push up to the surface, causing an eruption.
Alan Levander, a Rice University geophysicist and lead researcher for iMUSH told the Oregonian newspaper those chambers are placed three to 25 miles below sea level.
“There is no giant pool of lava down there,” he said, to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “These things are almost solid rock that have a small percentage of melt moving through them.”
The $3 million study maps out the inner-workings of Mount St. Helens, a peak more than 8,000 feet high, and the surrounding Cascade Range.
The scientists used vibrations set off through man-made explosions and seismic waves caused by earthquakes to conduct magnetic analysis and locate the magma.
The explosions helped them map the mountain range more extensively than previous research, which centered on Mount St. Helens' main magma chamber.
Mount St. Helens will erupt again, eventually, and the researchers believe there may be a link between the reserves of magma found through their experiments and the potential for a larger feeder pool.
The information iMUSH has turned up so far shows Mount St. Helens may not be the only volcano a larger chamber is supplying. Science Magazine reports there is evidence to suggest the nearby Mount Adams and the Indian Heaven volcanic field may also contain magma.
Dr. Levander said he believes the movement between the smaller cauldrons and the larger reservoir could be triggering earthquakes, a discovery that may be made with his team’s novel magnetic technologies.
“But these are not lava lakes right now,” Levander said.