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Seattle (UPI) Aug 15, 2013
A study in Washington is intended to develop a better understanding of how the state's Mount St. Helens gets its supply of volcanic magma, researchers say.
The 2-year project called Imaging Magma Under St. Helens, led by researchers at the University of Washington, could bring improvements in volcanic monitoring and advance warning systems at Mount St. Helens and other volcanoes, a university release reported Thursday.
"The main goal is to understand the plumbing system of the mountain," earth and space sciences Professor Kenneth Creager said.
The study in a broad area of southwestern Washington will have three separate components, the researchers said: passive-source seismic monitoring, active-source seismic monitoring and magnetotelluric monitoring, which uses fluctuations in Earth's electromagnetic field to produce images of structures beneath the surface.
The study's goal is a better understanding of how volcanoes work and particularly a much clearer idea of what is happening below Mount St. Helens, they said.
"Previous work has shown there is magma down to about 3 miles deep, but there is not a large reservoir of the molten rock," Creager said. "We need a clearer picture of this magma system and its deeper origins."
Mount St. Helens is the focus of the study because it has been the most active volcano in the Cascade Range, erupting twice in the last 35 years including a catastrophic eruption in May 1980.
"Developing a better understanding of the underlying magma system and how it relates to the top of the volcano will allow scientists to make more accurate assessments of the volcano's status when it becomes active in the future," Creager said.
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