Hawaii vol­cano raises con­cerns

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NATION - BY NI­CHOLAS K. GERANIOS

SPOKANE, WASH. — The erup­tion of a Hawaii vol­cano in the Pa­cific “Ring of Fire” has ex­perts war­ily eye­ing vol­canic peaks on Amer­ica’s West Coast that are also part of the ge­o­log­i­cally ac­tive re­gion.

The West Coast is home to an 800-mile chain of 13 vol­ca­noes , from Wash­ing­ton state’s Mount Baker to Cal­i­for­nia’s Lassen Peak. They in­clude Mount St. He­lens, whose spec­tac­u­lar 1980 erup­tion in the Pa­cific North­west killed dozens of peo­ple and sent vol­canic ash across the coun­try, and mas­sive Mount Rainier, which tow­ers above the Seat­tle metro area.

“There’s lots of anx­i­ety out there,” said Liz Westby, ge­ol­o­gist at the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey Cas­cades Vol­cano Ob­ser­va­tory in Van­cou­ver, Wash­ing­ton, in the shadow of Mount St. He­lens. “They see de­struc­tion, and peo­ple get ner­vous.”

Ki­lauea, on Hawaii’s Big Is­land, is threat­en­ing to blow its top in com­ing days or weeks af­ter sput­ter­ing lava for a week, forc­ing about 2,000 peo­ple to evac­u­ate, de­stroy­ing two dozen homes and threat­en­ing a geo­ther­mal plant. Ex­perts fear the vol­cano could hurl ash and boul­ders the size of re­frig­er­a­tors miles into the air.

Here are some key things to know:

Q: What is the Ring of Fire?

A: Roughly 450 vol­ca­noes make up this horse­shoe-shaped belt with Ki­lauea sit­u­ated in the mid­dle. The belt fol­lows the coasts of South Amer­ica, North Amer­ica, east­ern Asia, Aus­tralia and New Zealand. It’s known for fre­quent vol­canic and seis­mic ac­tiv­ity caused by the col­lid­ing of crustal plates.

Amer­ica’s most dan­ger­ous vol­ca­noes are all part of the Ring of Fire, and most are on the West Coast, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey. Be­sides Ki­lauea, they in­clude: Mount St. He­lens and Mount Rainier in Wash­ing­ton; Mount Hood and South Sis­ter in Ore­gon; and Mount Shasta and Lassen Vol­canic Cen­ter in Cal­i­for­nia.

Im­ages of lava flow­ing from the ground and homes go­ing up in flames in Hawaii have stoked un­ease among res­i­dents else­where along the Ring of Fire. But ex­perts say an erup­tion on one sec­tion of the arc doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily sig­nal dan­ger in other parts.

“These are iso­lated sys­tems,” Westby said.

Q: When will the West Coast vol­ca­noes erupt?

A: No erup­tion seems im­mi­nent, ex­perts say. The Cas­cades Vol­cano Ob­ser­va­tory mon­i­tors vol­ca­noes in the Pa­cific North­west and posts weekly sta­tus re­ports. All cur­rently reg­is­ter “nor­mal.”

But the sit­u­a­tion can change fast.

“All our moun­tains are con­sid­ered ac­tive and, ge­o­log­i­cally speak­ing, things seem to hap­pen in the North­west about ev­ery 100 years,” said John Uf­ford, pre­pared­ness man­ager for the Wash­ing­ton Emer­gency Man­age­ment Di­vi­sion. “It’s an in­ex­act time­line.”

Some ge­ol­o­gists be­lieve Mount St. He­lens is the most likely to erupt.

But six other Cas­cade vol­ca­noes have been ac­tive in the past 300 years, in­clud­ing steam erup­tions at Mount Rainier and Glacier Peak and a 1915 blast at Lassen Peak that de­stroyed nearby ranches.

Q: What kind of dam­age could they do?

A: The Big Is­land scenes of rivers of lava snaking through neigh­bor­hoods and sprout­ing foun­tains are un­likely in the Pa­cific North­west.

“Lava is not the haz­ard, per se, like in Hawaii,” said Ian Lange, a re­tired Univer­sity of Mon­tana ge­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor. Cas­cade vol­ca­noes pro­duce a thicker, more vis­cous type of lava than Hawai­ian vol­ca­noes, so it doesn’t run as far, Lange said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.