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  Wednesday, November 13, 2019
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Magma continued to push up into Washington state's Mount St. Helens on Tuesday
Magma continued to push up into Washington state's Mount St. Helens on Tuesday, pushing up the lava crust and creating a boiling lake in the volcano's crater, a government scientist said. Mount St. Helens, which erupted in 1980 killing 57 people and spewing ash as far away as Oklahoma, has been emitting steam and ash since last Friday, prompting the U.S. Geological Survey to issue a Level 3-Volcano Alert, the highest level warning of an imminent eruption. The lava dome created in the crater after the 1980 eruption has risen a total of 150 feet and heated rock has melted part of a glacier nestled next to the dome in the crater, creating a bubbling lake, USGS volcanologist Jake Lowenstern said. "About 20 percent of the (lava) dome has been deformed by intrusion of magma into the system," Lowenstern told reporters at task force headquarters in Vancouver, Washington, 40 miles south of Mount St. Helens. The latest series of eruptions are the first since 1986, when small eruptions added lava to the lava dome created after the 1980 eruption. Mount St. Helens will most likely undergo a similar lava building event, Lowenstern said, rather than exploding violently and causing widespread damage. The USGS kept a nearby visitor center at the Johnston Ridge Observatory off limits as a safety precaution, although tourists were flocking to the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center north of the mountain. The latest emission from Mount St. Helens happened at 9:03 a.m. PDT on Tuesday, spewing more ash than observed in previous eruptions, the USGS said. The main concern by local authorities is the spread of ash from any eruption. An ash alert was issued after the emission. Mount St. Helens is located in southwestern Washington state, about 100 miles south of Seattle, and 50 miles north of a busy airport at Portland, Oregon. The National Weather Service warned low-flying aircraft to stay away from the plume of ash, which was being carried by winds blowing toward the northeast. Aircraft, particularly jet aircraft, are vulnerable to volcanic ash, since it can stall engines. The 1980 eruption destroyed more than 200 homes and devastated hundreds of square miles of surrounding evergreen spruce forest. Ash from that eruption billowed across much of the United States and was carried as far east as Oklahoma. The violent blast off the top of the mountain and reduced the summit of Mount St. Helens to 8,364 feet from 9,677 feet, reports Reuters. According to the Star, Mount St. Helens exhaled a spectacular roiling cloud of steam and ash today, sprinkling grit on a small town some 40 kilometres from the volcano. The volcano has been venting steam and small amounts of ash daily since Friday, but this morning's burst was the largest, producing a billowing, dark grey cloud that rose hundreds of metres above the 13,460-metre-high rim of the crater and streamed kilometres to the northeast. For days, scientists have been warning that the volcano could blow at any moment with enough force to endanger lives and property. After the latest burst of steam, it was not immediately clear whether the strong eruption was still to come or whether the pressure inside the volcano had eased. Either way, scientists said there was hardly any chance of a repeat of the cataclysmic 1980 eruption that killed 57 people and coated much of the northwest with ash. The town of Randle, with a population of about 2,000, kept students with asthma inside after getting a light dusting of ash. Officials of sparsely populated Skamania County also were concerned that the ash might harm hunters in the area for elk season. Officials at the Coldwater Ridge Visitors Center, 13.5 kilometres north of the mountain, told the several dozen people at the centre's parking lot not to drive into the ash if the plume reached them. However, the cloud trailed away to the east. Scientists had been expecting steam bursts as superheated rock came into contact with runoff from melting snow and ice. Runoff from a melting glacier formed a bubbling pond about 36 metres across in the crater, U.S. Geological Survey spokeswoman Catherine Puckett said today. The Johnston Ridge Observatory, about eight kilometres from the crater, has been closed since the weekend, and most air traffic has been prohibited below 4,000 metres and within eight kilometres of the volcano.
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