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Earth Science

A Supervolcano Beneath Mt. St. Helens? 180

Posted by kdawson
from the don't-know-where-i'm-a-gonna-go dept.
We've discussed the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone a few times here (not going to blow, 2004; going to blow, 2008). Now scientists are pondering whether a large area of conductive material beneath Mt. St. Helens might contain enough magma that the area could be classed a supervolcano. The jury is still out on this one. Reader nhytefall sends us a New Scientist progress report. "Magma can be detected with a technique called magnetotellurics, which builds up a picture of what lies underground by measuring fluctuations in electric and magnetic fields at the surface. The fields fluctuate in response to electric currents traveling below the surface, induced by lightning storms and other phenomena. The currents are stronger when magma is present, since it is a better conductor than solid rock. ... [M]easurements revealed a column of conductive material that extends downward from the volcano. About 15 km below the surface, the relatively narrow column appears to connect to a much bigger zone of conductive material. This larger zone was first identified in the 1980s by another magnetotelluric survey, and was found to extend all the way to beneath Mount Rainier 70 km to the north-east, and Mount Adams 50 km to the east. It was thought to be a zone of wet sediment, water being a good electrical conductor. ... [Some researchers] now think the conductive material is more likely to be a semi-molten mixture. Its conductivity is not high enough for it to be pure magma.. so it is more likely to be a mixture of solid and molten rock."
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A Supervolcano Beneath Mt. St. Helens?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 13, 2009 @03:08PM (#28321685)
    Yeah, most slashdotters would mount anyone with that name.
  • Yay, they found more Lava.

    ... umm. Now what?
  • by PotatoFiend (1330299) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @03:20PM (#28321783)

    But Democratic leaders in Congress -- they rejected this approach. Instead of trusting us to make wise decisions with our own money, they passed the largest government spending bill in history, with a price tag of more than $1 trillion with interest. While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes ... $140 million for something called "volcano monitoring." Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.

    -- Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Saturday June 13, 2009 @03:29PM (#28321839) Homepage Journal

      Yep. And next time Louisiana gets slammed by a big storm (and it will) Jindal or his successor will go running to the Federal government for help, all the while whining that not enough was done to predict or prepare for the event. But volcanoes? Pffft. Everyone who has to worry about that is a damnyankee anyway.

      (Of course, if it weren't for those damnyankees, Jindal himself would never have had a prayer of getting elected county dogcatcher in any ex-Confederate state, much less governor ... but we're not supposed to mention that either.)

      Louisiana politics have always been deeply corrupt, but they used to be relatively sane. I'm not sure what happened.

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        Fuck Louisiana. They passed the Science Education Act [richarddawkins.net] which mandates that creationism, er..."intelligent" design, must be taught alongside evolution.

        Fuck the south, and FUCK RELIGION. Hmmph. Talking to a fucking invisible man in the sky. Pure and utter stupidity.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by stonewallred (1465497)
          there are some of us down here that don't believe in the invisible sky wizard. Don't write us all off cowboy.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      This volcano monitoring spending was part of an economic stimulus bill.
      What in the hell does spending on volcano monitoring have to do with stimulating the economy, I have no idea. Maybe we should be funding this, but it has nothing to do with the issue that he was addressing.

      It was a bit clumsy, but Jindal was dead on correct in criticizing the pork that goes on in Congress.

      • by PotatoFiend (1330299) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @04:07PM (#28322053)

        It can be reasonably argued either way as to whether funding for volcano monitoring belonged in that particular bill (I urge you to consider how the economy might be affected by a volcano-scale natural disaster -- the possible nullification of any progress stemming from the bill's other economic recovery provisions).

        More poignant however was the obvious subtext of Jindal's message, which was mockery of science. You probably wouldn't agree, but it'd certainly be worth my taxpayer dollars to fund a permanent residence for Gov. Jindal at the summit of Mt. St. Helens.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        You insensitive Bizatch!!! I happen to be a Volcano Monitoring Technician. I sit on a rock in Yellowstone for 8 hrs. day, 5 days a week, concentrating on the vibrations coming through the ground and the effects of the magnetic waves on various metal objects. My homeless technical training makes me ideal for this position, so said PrezBO
    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Saturday June 13, 2009 @03:37PM (#28321903) Homepage Journal

      Wow, parent got modded troll pretty fast. Apparently the Republican mod-bombers are out in force.

      It is a fact that Jindal, governor of a state (Louisiana) which has suffered mightily from natural disasters (hurricanes) in the recent past and will inevitably do so in the future, criticized Federal spending on a program designed to predict and prepare for natural disasters (volcanoes) which could easily be as devastating if not more so. It is also a fact that Jindal made this a partisan issue. Pointing this out does not constitute a troll.

      • by Zancarius (414244)

        Wow, parent got modded troll pretty fast. Apparently the Republican mod-bombers are out in force.

        It could've been a Libertarian or even some Democrat who was paid off by him. I realize it's quite popular to blame everything on Republicans these days, but c'mon! There are plenty of nutjob groups on both sides of the fence.

        I'm a Republican. I never mod down posts--not even quite hateful ones directed to people like me. 1) It ain't worth it and 2) bigoted speech (even the kind most Slashdotters sadly agree wit

    • Well, he's right to some extent. Funding for ongoing projects (like volcano monitoring) should be in the normal budget - the stimulus bill was supposed to be for one-time expenses and to kick start the economy, not for pork or to circumvent the normal budget process. I can't help but wonder how much 'seed' money for ongoing projects/pork is hidden in the stimulus money.

      Disclaimer: Puget Sound area resident, and one aware of the difference between volcano monitoring and basic research.

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      If well looks very shortsighted, there is another thing we should think around this. If a deployed volcano monitoring system confirms that it will blow in short time, what could be done? Defusing? Will the probably short time before it happens give any advantage in the preparations for it over starting after or starting now, making us more prepared in general for any mid-sized disaster? Of course, could make a difference to people living in a somewhat short range of the explosion.

      In the other hand... a supe
    • Unlike many government programs, volcano monitoring can be easily justified with solid numbers and statistics.

      I worked with a few folks in a volcano-monitoring program [alaska.edu] a few years ago.

      Much of the justification for their existence comes from an incident [wikipedia.org]that took place in 1989, in which a 747 flew into a cloud of volcanic ash, causing all 4 engines to fail.

      A similar incident took place in 1982 with a British Airways 747. In both cases, the pilots at the controls had experience flying unpowered aircraft, and

  • Don't panic (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lost Penguin (636359) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @03:26PM (#28321819) Homepage
    It connects to Yellowstone, and will soon be a second moon.
  • by kbrasee (1379057) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @03:30PM (#28321845) Homepage
    can I have your stuff?
    • Yeah, but it'd be buried under feet of magma and ash.

      Yeah, you can have it, but good luck finding it. :P

    • Well Silicon Valley already had its bubble burst. So are you saying its about time it blows up by a volcano? When the city of Atlantis rises again, we'll see who the fools are.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The force could be enough to take out all the chairs in the Microsoft campus, regardless of what news was being digested by the CEO at the time.

    • by selven (1556643)
      I think you mean:

      The force could be enough to take out 173 libraries of congress, regardless of what news was being digested by the CEO at the time.

      • The force could be enough to take out 1.73 libraries of congress, regardless of what news was being digested by the CEO at the time.

        There, fixed that for you.

  • by Itninja (937614) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @03:31PM (#28321857) Homepage
    I did a little reading under Supervolcano on Wikipedia and it says "...supervolcano was not a technical term used in volcanology. The term megacaldera is sometimes used.."

    You got that? It's a Megacaldera guys. Only total n00bz call it a supervolcano! I bet you guys called Yoda a Jedi Knight too....everybody knows he was a Jedi MASTER.

    ....hehe...supervolcano.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by maroberts (15852)
      Presumably before he was a Master he was a Knight. Once a Master always a Master but once a night is enough....
    • by syousef (465911) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @03:55PM (#28321985) Journal

      "...supervolcano was not a technical term used in volcanology. The term megacaldera is sometimes used.."

      It's a supervolcano if it wears it's underwear on the outside.

      • by fbjon (692006)

        It's a supervolcano if it wears it's underwear on the outside.

        Volcanoes do that sometimes. I note that at least Ms. Helens has red panties. Hot!

    • Well, if they want a big grant, they'll soon learn to start calling things by their more dramatic names.
    • Really, it's neither.

      Technically, either a volcano or a volcano is where volcanic activity is exposed on the surface. A volcano is a source of magma. A caldera is the "crater" that often appears at the center of a volcano. Neither have a whole lot to do with a massive reservoir of magma, which is... a massive reservoir of magma.

      Except for the postulated mix of magma and water, there is not much new here. It has long been accepted that Mount Ranier, Mount St. Helens, and probably Mount Baker are connec
    • Isn't Megacaldera a heavy metal tribute band from the SCO group?

    • by dimeglio (456244) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @05:01PM (#28322391)

      In my opinion, all volcanoes are all "super." Monsters like Mt. Etna and Vesuvius would be typical in size. Super would be what? The size of Cuba, Iceland, Tasmania - that would be super. How about exovolcanoes (or is it exoplanetary volcanoes)? Do you use the same scale?

      I suppose that since the Mt. St-Helens is in the USA, it must be a super something.

    • Jesus, does this mean we're going to have to go through the whole SCO fiasco again on a grander scale?
  • Volcano! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@jws[ ]he.com ['myt' in gap]> on Saturday June 13, 2009 @03:33PM (#28321875) Homepage Journal

        There's always a volcano about to erupt, or a fault going to shatter in an earthquake, or a comet that's going to smash into the earth, or a polar ice cap that's going to melt. It's always something.

        Wake me up when Vesuvius erupts; California becomes "the Island previously known as California"; New York is under water; or an planet splitting meteor strikes. Otherwise, it's not news, it's fear mongering. Wolf has been cried too many times for people to be concerned any more.

        I've lived in Florida for years. Hurricanes are far more likely to blow through than a volcano destroying a vast swath of the US, yet seasoned residents (those of us who have lived through more hurricanes than we can count) just make sure we have some food and water at home, and a way to cook. Live on high ground, and cross your fingers a tornado doesn't take your house away. Tornadoes during hurricanes are very likely, but the square footage of land destroyed (houses, upturned cars, etc) are so small compared to the square miles of potential damage area that you may as well play the lottery and expect to win.

    • Re:Volcano! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 13, 2009 @03:43PM (#28321929)

      I suggest you actually read the summary. It doesn't say that Mount St. Helens is going erupt and destroy life as we know it, or anything like that. It says "Hey guys, what if that large area under the ground isn't actually water like we thought and is actually semi molten rock?". To which the answer is, "Well that might mean we need to classify it differently." That's it. No grand and dire warnings, suggest an idea that would further our understanding of at least a piece of the earth.

      But don't let me interrupt your off topic rant.

      • by JWSmythe (446288)

            A miscategorized geological formation isn't newsworthy unless they're trying to imply something else. It would have just been changed on a few note sheets and ignored.

            No, that dike isn't a dike, it's a levee. No, that lake isn't a lake, it's a pond. No pluto isn't a planet, it's a misclassified astronomical object. No it's not TV, it's HBO.

        • Re:Volcano! (Score:4, Informative)

          by ultranova (717540) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @05:16PM (#28322473)

          A miscategorized geological formation isn't newsworthy unless they're trying to imply something else. It would have just been changed on a few note sheets and ignored.

          This isn't a generic news site, thought; it's "news for nerds". And the story is not about a miscategorization, it's about new findings about a major geological feature.

        • Re:Volcano! (Score:4, Informative)

          by True Grit (739797) * <edwcogburn@nosPaM.gmail.com> on Sunday June 14, 2009 @10:23AM (#28326419)

          A miscategorized geological formation isn't newsworthy unless they're trying to imply something else.

          Its the corrected categorization that is doing the new "implying" here. The implication that St. Helens may be just one vent from a much larger super-caldera structure is what is significant. Now, whether its true or not is something else, I'm a little skeptical because it doesn't sound to me like the caldera structure at Yellowstone, but whatever...

          And no, a super-caldera eruption is not "just another volcano going off". Its a whole 'nuther kettle of fish. Super-caldera eruptions are automatically global, catastrophic events simply due to the amount of energy released by them, usually 3+ orders of magnitude greater than a single volcanic event, and the worst of them can be globally life-threatening [wikipedia.org].

          The last time Mt. St. Helen's blew its top in 1980, it ejected ~1.2 km3 of material (cubic kilometers). The last time the Yellowstone caldera blew its top around 600,000 years ago, it ejected ~1,000.0 km3 of material. And the really bad one from the link above (Toba Lake, Sumatra, around 75,000 years ago)? That one ejected ~2,800.0 km3 of material. See the difference? :)

          Fortunately, the only good thing about them is that they're rare. Unfortunately, they're very big firecrackers when they go off. How big? If the Yellowstone caldera decides to clear its throat real good in our lifetime, then you being in Florida won't automatically make you safe... That's how big. :)

          • by JWSmythe (446288)

            And the level of concern for a super volcano eruption should be? All the following odds are events:year(s)

            We know of 8 VEI-8 eruptions in the last 27 million years, with the last being 26,000 years ago; and 19 VEI-7 eruptions in the last 15 million years. That gives us 1:3,375,000 for a VEI-8 and 1:1,000,000. On the other hand, you're looking at 3.8:1 for a hurricane, or 1:1.25 for at Atlantic Category 5 hurricane.

            You still have 200:1 for being struck by lightning, o

            • by True Grit (739797) *

              And the level of concern for a super volcano eruption should be?

              I don't claim to know how to rank it, compared to other issues, danger vs. likelyhood, etc, thats up to each individual.

              My only point is that it is not the same thing as a normal volcanic event, which was implied in your post: "There's always a volcano about to erupt". Uhmmm, no there *isn't* always a super-caldera about to erupt, thats the point.

              You saw the reference to St. Helens, and assumed it was about a usual volcanic event(s), and missed the part about the alleged caldera super-strucure under the m

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Anyone woke you last time an hurricane lvl 5 hit a big city?

      Change happens, and some of it is big and abrupt. Will happen tomorrow? next century? Is not for losing the sleep for what could happen that you cant predict nor prevent, but neither is for denying that will happen in some moment of the (maybe far, maybe near) future.

      If makes you happy, you can take it as the "news" that Mars will hit Earth like in a billon years, odds are not low that it will no happen in your lifetime (specially if a big tidal wa
      • Re:Volcano! (Score:5, Informative)

        by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@jws[ ]he.com ['myt' in gap]> on Saturday June 13, 2009 @04:34PM (#28322235) Homepage Journal

            Actually, yes, I was woken up last time a Category 5 hurricane was about to hit. We don't panic because it's reported "This could be the worst hurricane season ever!" That's not news either, it's fear mongering. It's something to worry about when there's really a storm coming, and you may have a day or few days notice. It may be a Category 2 hurricane now, but when it arrives it could be just a tropical depression or a Category 5 hurricane. It may turn towards us. It may turn away from us. When it looks likely that it will hit, that's when we take precautions.

            When Hurricane Andrew came our way, we stored some water, make sure we had food and cooking supplies, and locked down everything we needed to. We were within the storm, but not near the eye. Not that the eye matters that much, these storms are wicked most of the way across.

            We watched Hurricane Isabel, but it turned away from us.

            Hurricane Ivan wasn't much to see when we got it.

            Hurricanes Katrina and Rita danced around us, so we were lucky.

            Hurricane Wilma wasn't terribly strong when it got here.

            A few years ago, I believe 2005, we had 4 hurricanes back to back. I was living out of state, but I had to fly back for work. My first flight was delayed because of the hurricane. They reopened the airport, and I caught the second flight. About a day after I landed, the next storm came in, and low lying areas were evacuated. We were moving equipment between data centers, and had just gotten it all inside when the edge of the storm hit. I called a provider to have a circuit turned up, and they asked "you do realize you're in the middle of a hurricane, right?" I had a 4wd rental SUV (with insurance, of course), food and water were secured at home. Power and traffic lights were spotty throughout the area. I received one phone call for an evacuation. Someone I knew had a Porsche, and couldn't get down his street because of the flooding and trees down. Flood waters were starting to come up, and the wind was driving the rain through his window seals, so the whole West side of his house was soaked. I drove Tampa to Clearwater, got him out of his home and to another friends place on higher ground. It's interesting driving in a hurricane across a bridge. It's hard to see, the winds push you around, the waves are crashing over the side of the bridge, but there are no cars on the road. :) It was us and police looking for people in trouble to help out. If we had seen a stopped car and someone trying to get our attention, we would have picked them up and taken them to safety, just as the police would have.

            Hurricanes are probably one of the best times, because most people turn to each other. The police aren't out trying to write traffic tickets. They're evacuating people from their homes (either mandatory or on calls for help), and looking for people stuck on the side of the road, or in other trouble. No questions are asked, they are just helped. Friends help out friends. People on higher ground give those on lower ground a place to stay until it's over. When its over, neighbors help neighbors with anything they can.

            During Hurricane Elena (1985), because it lingered off shore from us, the lowland houses flooded. We lived inland, and had 8 or so people staying with us for several days. After we lost power, food was cooked on the BBQ. Everyone was happy and fairly comfortable. 3 tornadoes hit our property, one on the house directly, and two uprooted trees and tossed them. When it was safe to go home (i.e., the flood waters had gone down enough to drive home), they went home and started cleaning up. Our only damage was a destroyed 50' TV antenna. The low lying houses weren't all so lucky.

      • by JWSmythe (446288)

        Let me rephrase my previous response.

        Hurricanes happen a lot. Category 5 hurricanes happen enough to make it a concern.

        Volcano's erupt ... umm ... Well, the last major eruption in the US was Mt. St. Helens in 1980, and there haven't been any major eruptions in the last decade [msn.com].

        Compare that to 8 Category 5 hurricanes [wikipedia.org] in the Atlantic in the last decade.

        Or we could look at a longer time span. 14 major volcanic eruptions world w

    • by bazorg (911295)
      you should have finished somewhere around the middle of the third paragraph with [NO CARRIER]
  • Wake me (Score:3, Funny)

    by icebike (68054) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @03:34PM (#28321885)

    Wake me when Rainer and Adams all start smoking at the same time.

    Otherwise, in people as well as volcanoes, an occasional good healthy belch relieves a lot of pressure.

  • Great, first we lose the Sonics and now our city is gonna be the next Pompeii. Great era to be a Seattleite
  • Scientists remember that Earth's core is made up of magma, so it only makes sense that alot of it exists...
  • by John Hasler (414242) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @04:00PM (#28322009) Homepage

    If the supernova don't get us the supervolcano will!

    • Fixed the subject line for you. The only reason these things are in the news is the sensationalism, not the science.

      If anyone was honest about reporting threats to human well-being they would be saying, "Sensationalist News Reporting Proven To Be A Threat To Human Life."

      At least we know that sensationalist news reporting, unlike supernovae and supervolcanoes and super-anythingelse, has actually already killed people, and will certainly do so again in future.

    • The real question is whether this is just large enough to be a supervolcano, or merely a really large volcano (and the age of the scientist determining this).
    • Fortunately, there's no real hierarchy for the front page. So, an imminent natural disaster is no more important than the latest gossip about the RIAA.
  • Comments (Score:1, Troll)

    by smoker2 (750216)
    Judging by the comments posted so far, if it is a super volcano, and it does blow, nothing of value will be lost.
    That is all.
  • Scenic Blue zone location... peek a boo view of the mountain... today... OK so I live between St Helens and Rainier... (the mountains, not the towns) I guess if the megacaldera DOES go.. I won't have to worry about the value of my home..... Back to mowing....
  • Given what we know about the geology of the area around Mt. Saint Helens, it's definitely not a candidate for a supercaldera. Otherwise, you would see something akin to the Long Valley Caldera in eastern California with its gigantic lava flows measuring many kilometers in every direction--something you see at the Toba and Yellowstone supercaldera sites.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by synesis (786756)
      I live between Mt. Adams and Mt Hood. If you look around the area there are many extensive lava beds and lava tubes. The walls of the Columbia Gorge consist of multiple 50 ft. thick lava layers - just saying. IANAG

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