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It’s not just the lava

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Mt. Rainier is only sleeping ... it will erupt again

By Kirsten Peters

Mt. Rainier in my native Washington State is a stunning site. It’s a beautiful mountain, covered in snow and ice in both winter and summer.
At over 14,000 feet, its summit is worthy of respect from even serious hikers. There’s no wonder it’s a National Park.
Like most all of the other beautiful peaks in the Cascades, Mt. Rainier is also a deadly volcano. It hasn’t erupted since 1894, but that’s not long ago to a geologist – we are sure it’s only sleeping and will be heard from again.
And it’s not simply lava that’s most likely to create a loss of life when the mountain next blows. That’s partly due to how volcanic gas separates from lava, and also due to an eruption’s effects on ice, soil and something we rock-heads call “ash.”
Here’s the story.
Some volcanoes erupt fairly gently. The Big Island of Hawaii is characterized by that kind of eruption.
When lava comes up to the surface of the Big Island, the gases in the lava tend to separate pretty gently from the molten rock – like bubbles forming and rising in a soda-pop bottle.  
That’s because the lava is pretty “runny,” or not very viscous as we geologists would say.


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