The U.S. Geological Survey, John Pallister/AP

Mount St. Helens Officially Dormant—For Now

July 18, 2008 01:55 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
After five months of quiet, Mount St. Helens is officially asleep, but scientists are not sure how long the Washington state volcano will slumber.

30-Second Summary

According to Tom Pierson, a scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cascades Volcano Observatory, there are three main ways to detect a volcanic eruption: earthquakes, gas emissions and ground deformation. In the past five months, Mount St. Helens has not displayed any of the three conditions.

The volcano’s restful state was declared after about three and a half years of eruptions, lowering its alert level from Advisory to Normal, and changing the aviation color code from yellow to green.

Although scientists are unsure of when Mount St. Helens will resume activity, they know that it will happen eventually. But close monitoring of the volcano appears to have quelled scientists’ fears of a sneak attack.

“It’s extremely rare that a volcano bursts back to life without any warnings at all,” Pierson said.

Since Mount St. Helens’s devastating eruption that killed 57 people in 1980, volcano surveillance technology has rapidly and drastically improved. Scientists today use GPS and satellites to observe volcanic activity from a safe distance, and the Internet and cell phones to keep in contact with other scientists around the world.

Scientists are also studying lightning produced by volcanoes. According to vulcanologists in New Mexico, the flashes could provide valuable insight into lava.

Headline Links: Slumbering, for now

Background: The 2004 eruption and improved technology

Historical Context: Mount St. Helens’s 1980 tragedy

Related Topic: Chilean and Hawaiian volcanoes

Reference Material: Mount St. Helens updates


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