Mt. Rainier quakes caution of volcanic activity

Even with Mount St. Helens smoldering for the past few months, scientists say there is another mountain in Washington state could have a more devastating impact if awakened.

According to Seth Moran of the U.S. Geological Service, Mt. Rainier is the most silently active volcano in the Cascades.

On Nov. 7, a series of earthquakes occurred near Mount Rainier. The largest tremor registered a magnitude 3.2, focused a mile southeast of the summit and a mile deep within the earth.

While scientists said recent seismic activity on Mount Rainier is not related to the eruption at Mount St. Helens, Rainier remains a young, active volcano.

The tallest peak in the Cascade Mountain range, Rainier stands at 14,410 feet. It is a relatively young mountain, with an eruption history of half a million years. The peak is covered with 4.4 billion cubic meters of ice and snow. If melted, it would fill Lake Washington one-and-a-half times.

With a potential to affect 100,000 residents living around its lowland drainages, scientists consider Rainier the most dangerous volcano in the Cascade Range.

A study by the National Research Council in 1994 concluded, "A major volcanic eruption or debris flow that is not prepared for could kill hundreds or thousands of residents and cripple the economy of the Pacific Northwest."

The news prompted communities living around the mountain to prepare. In Pierce County, officials have instituted disaster-planning exercises, while the U.S. Geological Service installed a $200,000 alarm system.

Hydrothermal activity 56,000 years ago caused a massive mudslide, called a lahar, to sweep mud and debris throughout the mountain's valleys. The most massive lahar recorded brought mud covering 212 square miles, extending as far as Kent.

Moran said it is hard to say that Rainier is overdue for an eruption. He said that there would be an eruption at some point, but cannot predict whether it will be in our lifetime.

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