Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mount Baker displays volcanic activity

A team from Western’s geology department joined researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, to conduct three types of observations at Mount Baker.

The team used Global Positioning System receivers, gravitational measurements and gas samples, said Juliet Crider, Western geology professor and leader of the project.

“We’re taking the pulse of the volcano,” Crider said. “Many studies on other volcanoes have addressed one aspect at a time — GPS, gravity or gas — but few projects have analyzed all these different types of data together.”

Measuring these data together allows researchers to more comprehensively assess what process or processes occurred at the volcano during the last 30 years, and what volcanic activity to expect in the future,said Kristin Hill, a third-year graduate student of geology at Western.

This three-pronged assessment of Mount Baker will help improve volcanic hazard monitoring in the region, said Brendan Hodge, first-year geography graduate students at Western.

“We hope to improve the understanding of volcanic systems in the Cascades and more specifically, Mount Baker,” Hodge said.

In 1975, steam and ash eruptions caused the U.S. Forest Service to close Baker Lake out of concern that heat generated by the volcanic activity could melt the snow and ice, causing mud slides.

The volcanic activity has subsided, but scientists never determined what caused the eruptions, Hodge said.

“Activity at Baker increased suddenly in 1975,” Hill said. “Since then, the emissions of carbon dioxide have remained high, indicating that something has been going on there over the past 30 years. We are trying to figure out what that something is.”

Mount Baker’s history is almost unknown, making it difficult to forecast the volcano’s future, said Dave Tucker, a researcher affiliated with Western’s geology department.

“In order to plan for future eruptions, we must study past eruptions,” Tucker said. “In geology we say the past is the key to the present.”

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