Mount St. Helens building up for next eruption

VANCOUVER, Wash. - Mount St. Helens is sleeping right now, but it's recharging for the next eruption.

According to John Ewert, a scientist in charge at the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, the volcano is re-pressurizing and building up magma.

Mount St. Helens last erupted ten years ago after recharging for about 19 years. Ewert says that's a typical timeframe for a volcano to build itself back up. Some volcanoes, however, can sit quietly for hundreds or thousands of years before they move toward an eruption.

In 2004, geologists had about a week's notice before a burst at Mount St. Helens. Over the weekend in Japan there was no sign Mount Ontake would erupt. Ewert says that was a small event, but it became deadly since so many people were hiking on the mountain.

Ewert and other scientists are working on a new experiment called Imaging Magma to look underneath St. Helens. Current technology lets researchers look about six miles under the volcano surface. This new project could take them 20 miles deep and give a better understanding of what happens inside.

The project won't be done for several more years but Ewert compares it to an MRI. His research team hopes to learn more about the systems inside Mount St. Helens and where magma accumulates.

From the outside we might only see some occasional steam coming from the mountain. Inside, it's one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

Eventually, Mount St. Helens will rebuild its peak and look like it did before the big eruption in 1980. That process will take many years and most of us living in the Northwest today will never see it completed.