There is evidence that Mt. Rainier, within sight of Seattle, is getting closer to an eruption. Reports from Canadian sources monitoring the mountain say that a possible volcanic eruption is coming soon, although this was quickly dismissed by the U.S Geological Service (USGS).
However, reporters have witnessed a growing dome over on the southeast side of the mountain face. Last week, sources from the University of Washington said that mud was seen flowing from the mountain. Mt. Rainier has been upgraded to a Level 2 - meaning a possible eruption in 30 to 90 days.
Mount Rainier towers over a population of more than 2.5 million in the Seattle-Tacoma area. It last erupted 150 years ago, when the nearby area was still a wilderness. There is nothing to suggest that volcanic activity has ended at Mount Rainier, according to the USGS. Mount Rainier will definitely erupt again, and this time it will impact the large number of people who live in the surrounding areas.
Experience at other volcanoes indicates that renewed eruptions will likely be preceded by weeks or months of small earthquakes centered beneath the volcano. These earthquakes can be accompanied by swelling or other changes in the shape of the volcano, as well as changes in ground temperatures and the amount and type of gas released from the volcano.
The northeast part of Mount Rainier slid away about 5,600 years ago as part of a collapse similar to that of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980. Debris from this collapse created the Osceola and Paradise mudflows that traveled down the White and Nisqually Rivers, reaching Puget Sound and pushing out the shoreline by several miles. The scar from this collapse is a horseshoe-shaped crater, about 1.25 miles wide. Since the collapse, lava flows and avalanches of hot lava fragments have erupted from the crater and filled up the crater, forming the present summit cone of Mount Rainier.
Mount Rainier and other similar volcanoes in the Cascade Range, such as Mount Adams and Mount Baker, erupt much less frequently than the Hawaiian volcanoes, but their eruptions are more destructive. Hot lava and rock debris from Rainier?s eruptions have melted snow and glacier ice and triggered mud flows. Earthquakes at Mount Rainier and other Cascade volcanoes are monitored by the University of Washington and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the volcanoes? shapes are measured regularly by staff of the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington.
Opinion: The USGS is a powerful voice, and its opinion is that the volcano is not dangerous now. However, there are also political pressures that might cause USGS to downplay activity as long as it does not appear short-term threatening. This would mean that the public might have only a few weeks or days notice before an eruption, when months of notice could have been provided. In any case it is fortunate that Rainier is not likely to explode without an extensive buildup of energy that will eventually become visible to all.
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