Students Follow News of Volcano

As telltale odors of hydrogen sulfide warn geological surveyors of the impending eruption of Mount St. Helens, students who hail from the Northwest said yesterday they are following the news with interest from 3,000 miles away.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced in late September that increasing levels of seismic activity indicated a potential stirring of magma within the Washington volcano, which has been dormant since 1980.

With seismic activity now at the level of a small earthquake every minute, the USGS has raised the Volcano Alert to its highest level, signaling an upcoming eruption, according to the USGS website.

Baird Professor of Science Adam M. Dziewonski, who teaches in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said yesterday he does not expect the potential explosion to cause as much damage as the volcano’s last eruption, which killed 57 people and spewed debris as far as doorsteps in Seattle, a three hour drive away.

“I think the eruption, if it occurs, will not be as serious as the one of 1980, since precursory signals are weaker and much of the mountain mass has blown away,” he said.

Students who have hiked on Mount St. Helens said the mountain still bears scars of the 1980 eruption.

“The leftovers from the last explosion are obvious,” said Conrad D. Jones ’05. “Trees are blown over like matchsticks.”

Cassandra M. Niemi ’07 said she saw an enormous crater opened by the last explosion when she was hiking up the south side of the mountain.

Across the country from the volcano, Harvard students said they are still concerned about the possibility of another eruption. The College draws approximately 15 percent of each class from the Pacific region that includes Washington State.

Joanna R. Binney ’08 said she was surprised to hear of the volcano’s reactivation.

“I definitely want to follow the situation closely because it’s so close to my hometown,” she said.

Other students said they feared another explosion would be a blow to recreational activities at the mountain.

Lucas T. Laursen ’06, president of the Harvard Mountaineering Club, noted that when he last climbed the mountain, the top barely extended beyond the treeline. He said the next eruption will likely reduce the mountain mass even further, leaving no rocky area for scaling.

Authorities have already taken safety measures in preparation for another eruption. Populated areas near the volcano were evacuated earlier this month.

The numerous onlookers have been exiled to at least a distance of 8.5 miles from the base of the volcano, and roads near Mount St. Helens are closed in anticipation of the eruption.

But for at least a few students from the area, the reawakening of a volcano that has been dormant for their entire lives was not a cause for alarm.

“I’m not worried about lava flowing to Seattle,” said Laura H. Chirot ’08, laughing. “I wish I were there. It’d be a lot more exciting from Seattle.”

Portland native Dunbar N. Carpenter ’08 said he was optimistic about the possible research opportunities the eruption would open for geologists.

Even though reports have mentioning his hometown as a possible target for ash, Carpenter said he doesn’t “think it’s something people in the particular area [are] concerned about.”

—Material from the Associated Press was used in the reporting of this story.