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A Dangerous Glacier Grows Inside Mount St. Helens' Crater

A Dangerous Glacier Grows Inside Mount St. Helens' Crater
-

Mount

Saint

Helens

is no secret to those who like to climb and trek on its broad, snowy slopes. Especially on the

mount

ain's south side, it's easy to forget what this

mount

ain is capable of, unless you make a trip to the rim for a reminder. This is as close as most people get, to

Mount

Saint

Helens

'

dangerous

side. An unfriendly, forbidding

crater

that's off-limits to everybody. Well, just about everybody. After signing away our life in liability forms, we were allowed to join the few scientists, who do have permission to enter the

crater

. But, we were warned. - You're going in an active volcano. There could be steam explosions. You're dealing with poisonous gas. You're dealing with weather, I mean, you're going into a harsh environment. You're just a visitor, and hopefully you're welcomed. - Our helicopter hovered briefly, above the hundred foot high Loowit Falls, before setting down on the north end of the

crater

. - We're right I the blast. Actually, we're right at the edge of the creator, right here, and if it went off, like it did in 1980, we wouldn't be alive to talk about it. - Our only transportation out of here, flew off, leaving us alone for the day, and within minutes we got a taste of what passes for normal, in this place. - This is one reason that it's closed to the public, some of these rocks coming down are actually as big as a Volkswagen. And, a hard hat wouldn't do ya any good. - Charlie Anderson...
a dangerous glacier grows inside mount st helens crater
led the way, deeper into the

crater

. He's an independent geologist and volcanologist. He knows the dangers as well as anyone, yet he still gets excited about coming here. - In fact, this is my hundred and fortieth trip, since 1980, and this sort of a disappointing year, because I've only made it up here twice. Normally I make it up here ten or twelve times a year. - The other researchers are here to help document the changes taking place in this exotic, other-worldly landscape. Travel here is extremely difficult. There are no trails in the

crater

, and the going is slow. Up ahead is the volcanic dome, 1,000 feet high, which has been growing in violent, and unpredictable fits and starts, ever since the 1980 eruption. - The last dome building event was actually in October of 1986. We had steam eruptions occur without any warning between 1989 to 1991, and I happened to be in the

crater

when one of those went, and all I did was go behind a rock, and just pray, and the thing shot out ash, and stuff, about sixteen, seventeen thousand feet above the dome. And, we were wondering if we'd ever walk out of that one, ya know. - Things are quieter today. Everyone is cautiously wary, yet eager to find out what lies ahead. - It's an adventure. I can't pass it up being a geologist, I mean, I have a volcano in my backyard, an active volcano. - Chris Barrens has been with Charlie on over 40 research trips to the

crater

. - There's about a cross-section of approximately a...
a dangerous glacier grows inside mount st helens crater
3,000 year history, so just to read the historical part of past eruptions, and present eruptions, to me as a geologist, is extremely exciting. - The question on every geologist's mind, is when will this

mount

ain erupt again? Predicting that is the trickiest part of volcano science. But, there are other changes taking place here, that are worth understanding, and possibly, worth worrying about. One of the newest dangers, is a

glacier

that straddles the dome. That's much bigger than it first appears. - These lines over here are crevasses. Crevasses on a

glacier

show glacial movement, and it's moving down the

mount

ain, actually. From September, 2002 to July, 2003, the

glacier

advanced down the

mount

ain 60 feet. Which is incredible. In July, 2003 there was approximately 80 feet more snow, than there was last year at that time. - Charlie was among the first to document the

glacier

's formation, and his research indicates that it's growing unusually fast. - I don't think anybody in the world has seen a

glacier

grow from almost the very first snowflake. This is the fastest new

glacier

growing in the continental United States. While most

glacier

s are starting to recede on

mount

ains, because of global warming, this one keeps advancing. One of the many reasons why this

glacier

is advancing, and accumulating, it's on the north side of the

mount

ain, which has little sunlight, so, the shadows keep the snow from melting. - Wow. - A steady stream of dirt and rock,...
a dangerous glacier grows inside mount st helens crater
also ends up scattered on the ice. This layer of debris forms an insulating blanket, that keeps the ice from melting, and allows the

glacier

to build larger and larger everyday.

Glacier

s, of course, aren't uncommon in the Cascades. But, the rapid pace of this

glacier

's growth, sets it apart from others in the northwest. Just 50 miles away, is

Mount

Rainier, a more typical Cascade peak, with several dozen named

glacier

s sprawling down the

mount

ain's flanks. Rainier's

glacier

s are well-known, expansive, and visible from just about anywhere. But, Rainier is a relatively inactive volcano, and its

glacier

s are shrinking. In contrast, the unnamed

glacier

on Saint

Helens

is growing fast, and it's sitting on top of a restless, and earthquake prone volcanic

crater

. - One of the dangers would be if the volcano becomes active again. There's a pretty good source within the

crater

itself, of a lahar, ya know, a mudflow emanating from the

crater

, if there's a significant eruption. - It's happened before. During the 1980 eruption, the

mount

ain top

glacier

s dissolved, joining rock and other volcanic debris, to form a massive lahar, that swept down the Toutle River valley. This is not a scene residents want to see repeated. At the USGS National Volcanic Laboratory, in Vancouver, Washington, seismographs act as an early warning system, gathering realtime earthquake and tremor information, from sensors placed on the

mount

ain. - We're always monitoring

Mount

...
Saint

Helens

, because it is the volcano that's erupted the most frequently in the Cascades. - Hydrologist, Steve Schilling says there is reason to take notice of what's happening in the

crater

. - Because it erupted in 1980, did not remove all hazard. So I can show you, as comparison here between 1980 and 2000, and so you can see as I flicker that on and off, the dome

grows

and the increase within the

crater

, sort of in a horseshoe shape around the dome, of the snow, and ice, and rock that's accumulating, and so that's a fairly quick period of time for this

glacier

to develop. Eventually what this will do, is fill up, and in who knows how many years from now, eventually we'll have a

mount

ain like it looked prior to the 1980 eruption. And, it will erupt again, someday. - Studying the

glacier

helps scientist calculate how much ice, snow, and rock is accumulating. And, whether something short of an eruption, like a big earthquake, could cause a lahar, is one of the things geologists want to find out. But, the

glacier

is now big enough, that a lahar, if it happens, will probably cause considerable damage. - This used to be almost flat, or let's say a ten degree angle slope, if you take all that mass out, going all around the dome, that's how much has accumulated since 1986. The lahar hazard would be tremendous, because all the

glacier

s that were obliterated in 1980, half of that mess is back in the

crater

, right now. It would take five million dump...
trucks, just to get all that snow mass out. - The Toutle River valley still bears wounds from a series of lahars in the 1980's. The danger today is aggravated, because the

mount

ain's throat has been blasted wide open, and only an aging sediment dam, miles down river, stands in the way of the next debris flow. This dam is filling up, becoming less and less effective over time. Things have been quiet for many years, but the visible damage of past lahars, serves as a reminder what the

mount

ain that lies upriver shouldn't be ignored. Back in the

crater

, Charlie continues to document the

glacier

's growth. But, recent trips have evolved into explorations, of the previously unknown, hidden world, of ice caves. - There are actually 26 entrances, up here, and there's a mile and three quarters of cave. The caves are continuing to expand, and sometimes they fall apart in different places, as the

glacier

keeps creeping around. - The caves conceal may hot spots in the

crater

, and they shift and collapse, and reshape constantly. So, Charlie keeps his trips to the cave short. - In the caves it's very

dangerous

, because at certain times of the year, like in 1998 for example, we had 445 earthquakes in the month of August. We're just basically studying to see how they're formed, like is it geothermal activity, and it is a lot of geothermal activity for the fumaroles that are starting this cave. - The caves are misted by steam, and ground vents spew hot and...
sometimes poisonous gases. Melting glacial ice joins these hidden fumaroles and ground vents beneath the dome, only to emerge as boiling streams, that cascade down the

mount

ain. These thermal features provide clues about what the

mount

ain is up to, how active it is, how hot it is, and what kind of changes are taking place from year-to-year. - This is a geothermal spring, or a hot spring. And, here's a good example of the algae that

grows

in it. The darker brown

grows

at a higher temperature, and then you get the green, which

grows

at a lower temperature. The water at source, is probably about 170 degrees fahrenheit. - Scientists will continue to monitor the

mount

ain for increases in temperature, as well as any up-ticks and tremor activity that could trigger a lahar. Yet, despite the abundance of strange geologic activity in the

crater

, research suggests that the

mount

ain is in fact, cooler than it was twenty years ago, and is slowly quieting down. People like Charlie are just beginning to put all this information together. Still, there are reminders everywhere, that this is new earth, and is a place where change, even violent change, is a constant. (crashing rock) By late afternoon, a haze had filled the air, caused by a near constant cascade of rock falls, and avalanches. Chris and Charlie agreed it was time to leave. - It's a risk, it's a calculated risk, and that's part of the research, I mean, ya know, if no one went into this type of environment, no one...
would really know what was going on. It's a needed thing to do. - As we lifted off, and looked down upon the

crater

from a safer distance, we tried to pretend once again, that

Mount

Saint

Helens

is the peaceful place that many have come to think it is. It's probably wiser to accept the fact, this it isn't.