Trial Balloon

Trial Balloon: May 19, 2010 Archive

The Volcanoes Among Us

Posted at 6:00 AM on May 19, 2010 by Dale Connelly (26 Comments)
Filed under: Monsters, Science

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. The mountain is still active and has been rated the second most dangerous volcano in the U.S., after Kilauea in Hawaii.

I visited St. Helens two summers ago and was amazed at the devastation still evident 27 years after the 1980 explosion. The blast-leveled landscape extends for miles. Driving a winding mountain road while surrounded by the bleak ruins of once forested hillsides brought home to me the enormous reach and power of a volcano.

And now I read in a National Geographic article that the U.S. is the world's second most volcanic country (after Russia). We have 169 locations under observation for signs that they are about to spew molten lava, superheated air, and boulders the size of minivans. Mt. Rainier, visible on a clear day from downtown Seattle, is a volcano! And all this time I thought it was just a picturesque backdrop for the Space Needle. Even Yellowstone National Park sits atop a super volcano - something geologists on the ground noticed 40 years ago, verified when photos from space showed the outline of a massive caldera. Egads! Where AREN'T there volcanoes?

If you're willing to go back a billion years there is evidence that eruptions helped shape Minnesota. For instance, the rocks along Lake Superior's north shore are made of hardened lava. And the Paul Bunyan statue in Akeley has a beard so incredibly dark it looks like he toasted it while peering into the mouth of some bellowing inferno. What else would be big enough to toast this chin? But to find active volcanoes today, you'll have to look elsewhere - or will you? Evidently these boisterous monstrosities of nature have established a pattern of hiding in plain sight.

My nominee for a Minnesota location worth watching is the hill where the State Capitol sits. It rumbled all winter and almost erupted with a major economic blowout last weekend, but apparently the pressure has been diverted in such a way that it can continue to build and may reach a truly catastrophic level of readiness as early as next year.

Also, most summer evenings my neighbor tends a smoldering plume that he claims is a backyard fire pit, but I'm suspicious.

If the volcano next door suddenly started belching magma and you had 20 minutes to pack the car, what would you take?

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