Could Mount St. Helens erupt again?

An in-depth analysis of the magma reservoirs beneath Mount St. Helens in Washington has revealed that the volcano responsible for the deadliest eruption in US history could be about to erupt again, according to media reports published on Friday.

In research presented Tuesday during the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, scientists from Rice University, the University of New Mexico, the University of Texas-El Paso and the University of Washington explained that they found a pair of magma chambers beneath the 8,300-plus foot summit that could spell help explain its previous, deadly eruption.

According to Science, the study authors found one giant magma chamber between five and 12 kilometers beneath the surface, and another, larger one between 12 and 40 kilometers down. In addition, they reported that the two chambers appear to be connected, and that the bigger of the two is not only feeding the smaller one, but nearby Mount Adams as well.

Based on these findings, the researchers believe that a series of earthquakes that occurred during the months before the May 1980 eruption that killed 57 people could have been due to magma in the lower chamber being pumped into the upper one, the Daily Mail said. This caused pressure in the upper chamber to increase dramatically, ultimately forcing the explosive eruption to occur.

Findings part of the ongoing iMUSH imaging project

During their presentation, the study authors noted that there have been an increase in tremors in the area recently suggesting that more magma is being transported from the lower chamber to the upper one, and thus indicating that Mount St. Helens could potentially erupt once again.

“We can only now understand that those earthquakes are connecting those magma reservoirs,” Rice seismologist Eric Kiser said, noting that volcanologists could use future seismic activity in the area as a warning that an eruption may be on the horizon. “They could be an indication that you have migration of fluid between the two bodies.”

The results are among the first from the “imaging magma under St. Helens” or iMUSH project, which launched in 2014 and is the largest campaign to ever attempt to use geophysical methods to understand the inner workings of a volcano, explained Science. The iMUSH campaign uses a network of 2,500 seismometers to piece together images of the volcano’s crust.

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Image credit: Thinkstock

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