More steam rises from Mount St. Helens as dome in crater reaches blistering high temperature

Tuesday, October 12th 2004, 1:16 pm
By: News On 6

MOUNT ST. HELENS, Wash. (AP) More steam rose Tuesday from the blistering hot lava dome growing in the crater of Mount St. Helens as geologists kept up their close watch on the volcano.

Thermal imaging showed part of a bulge on the south side of the dome-shaped rock formation had heated to 932 to 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit, scientists said. The surface of that part of the dome also appeared to be broken up.

``What's happened in the last day is the magma is not just pushing up but pushing out. We no longer have just isolated vents. Instead, the whole area is pushing up,'' U.S. Geological Survey geologist John Pallister said Monday.

Scientists believe magma, or molten rock, has risen to less than half a mile below the surface.

Although there's little chance of a large eruption like the May 18, 1980, blast that killed 57 people, scientists said the most likely scenario is a far less spectacular eruption that could spread a few inches of gritty volcanic ash up to 10 miles from the crater. That could happen in days, weeks or months _ or not at all, Pallister said.

Willie Scott, a USGS geologist, said the steam plume within the crater is a constant feature that will be there for days.

Seismic activity remained relatively low early Tuesday. However, along with rising temperatures, scientists have detected an increase in emissions of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, another sign that magma is rising.

Scientists have been offered the use of an unmanned reconnaissance drone that should be able to monitor the volcano with cameras and other instruments at night or even during an eruption, USGS spokeswoman Stephanie Hanna said Monday.

Scientists were awaiting Federal Aviation Administration clearance to allow use of the 22-pound drone, a model named the Silver Fox, Hanna said. ``We're very hopeful this will give us a new eye on this volcano that is far safer than putting a human being at risk,'' she said.

The mountain in the Cascade Range rumbled back to life Sept. 23, beginning with thousands of tiny earthquakes. Thousands of people were evacuated from areas around the mountain Oct. 2, but the alert level was lowered four days later.