How do you live in the shadow of a volcano? : KC's Blog
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(Kool Cat)

(Kool Cat)
KC's Wild Facts 

How do you live in the shadow of a volcano?

by Kool Cat KC on 10/31/13

How do you live by the shadow of a volcano?


Is it scary to live close to a volcano? My human, Terry, thought it might be, of course, but she hadn’t really thought about it until she was invited to visit schools in the Mount St. Helens area.

    Talking to students at Yale Elementary School and Woodland Intermediate School, Terry saw what it is for a young person to live in the shadow of a volcano. These schools are a few short miles from Mount St. Helens. If magma rises again into the mountain and Mount St. Helens erupts, the students in these schools when the mountain erupts will feel its effect.
    Terry has done many school visits in her home state of Virginia, in North Carolina, in New Jersey. To students in these areas, Mount St. Helens, or any volcano, is something far away. Interesting, but not threatening. She might get a question about whether Mount St. Helens will erupt again, but that’s not very often. But close to Mount St. Helens, that was the first question she got. When will it erupt again, and what will happen? It seemed that every student she talked to had a jar of Mount St. Helens ash that their parents or grandparents had collected after the eruption.
    The good thing about volcanoes is that they give warnings—earthquakes. Mount St. Helens was shaken by earthquakes for fifty-nine days before the mountain’s huge eruption. At first the earthquakes were smallish, then earthquakes became more frequent, sometimes earthquakes shook the mountain about once a minute. Scientists knew the mountain was closer to erupting when the earthquakes became rhythmic—that meant that magma was really on the move—and when a bulge started growing on the side of the mountain. These were all signs that everyone could feel. They could also see small eruptions of ash and steam from a crater that formed a couple of days after the first earthquake. Scientists placed seismographs all over Mount St. Helens and the other volcanoes in that area. These seismographs will get the earliest warning signs.
    Terry and Abi Groskopf, a scientist from the Mount St. Helens Institute, told the students about the earthquakes, and about seismographs. Abi also told the students that the last big eruption, in May 18, 1980, had blasted out to the south, away from the schools they were visiting. The important thing about volcanoes is that, when there are warnings, they need to be obeyed.
    Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the danger is real. It took fifty-nine days of rocking and rolling for Mount St. Helens to finally erupt. The mountain was closed, of course. People were urged to evacuate. But as days came and went and the mountain didn’t erupt, people began to think that Mount St. Helens was not going to do it. A group of people that owned vacation homes in the Mount St. Helens area talked the governor into letting them go into the evacuated area to pick up their valuables on the day before the eruption. A second group was supposed to go mid-morning on May 18th. The mountain erupted at 8:32 in the morning. Do you think it was smart for those people to want to go back to the mountain to get their valuables? They could have lost their lives!
    Some people chose to stay on the mountain. Harry Truman, an 83-year-old gentleman named after our 33rd president, owned an inn on Spirit Lake at the bottom of the mountain. He chose to stay. He died. People went around the barricades that the Forest Service had placed to watch the volcano and be there if it erupted. Some of those people died. Many had harrowing experiences. Even a scientist from the United States Geologic Survey(USGS) was killed. David Johnston was at the USGS observatory six miles away from the mountain, at a place scientists felt was safe, and he was killed by the blast. A photographer from a newspaper in the area was also killed. He was about eight miles away.
    Giving so much warning, and being in an area that is easy to access, Mount St. Helens taught scientists lessons about eruptions. It taught that volcanoes can erupt laterally, straight ahead, as well as erupting up. Scientists had seen rock patterns around other volcanoes that they couldn’t explain. Now, seeing that Mount St. Helens erupted laterally, they had an explanation for those rock patterns. Since Mount St. Helens was turned into a National Monument, and the recovery of the mountain is being studied, scientists have learned many other valuable lessons. Of course, the lesson they learned that Terry likes the most is the one about the gopher helping in the recovery. That’s the one she wrote about in Gopher to the Rescue! A Volcano Recovery Story.
    How would you feel if you live in the shadow of a volcano? Maybe you do. You might want to write a story comparing and contrasting the reasons why you would want to stay and the reasons why you absolutely need to go. Find out which volcanoes in the United States are active. Can you figure out a reason why all those volcanoes are in about the same area? What is that area called? Next time, we’ll talk more about those volcanoes. Stay tuned.

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These are pictures of the scientists in the cave where a new species, Homo Nadeli, was discovered by two cavers. So many bones! The scientific work is being led by Dr. Lee Berger of the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa. Terry's thanks to National Geographic for providing these pictures. This was a cover story in the October Nat Geo Magazine.
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