Dormant Alaskan Volcano Appears to Be ‘Waking Up’ After 800 Years

by Shelby Scott
(Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

The United States houses more volcanoes than any other country in the world, with 161 in total. However, just 42 have been active within the last 70 years, and many of them are located in Alaska. The massive state boasts a number of both active and inactive volcanoes. However, one long, thought-to-be-dormant peak appears to be waking up after more than 800 years.

In order to predict if and when this volcano, named Mount Edgecumbe, might erupt, scientists are using seismology and radar. Newsweek reports that seismic activity has been detected beneath the long-inactive volcano near Sitka, Alaska. As stated, experts believe Mount Edgecumbe to be inactive for more than eight centuries. However, the outlet reports that geological evidence reveals the volcano’s last eruption took place 4,500 years ago. Afterward, the peak went dormant. But now, a string of earthquakes recorded earlier this year suggests the sleeping giant could awaken.

Why ‘Dormant’ Doesn’t Really Mean Dormant:

Don’t worry. The rise in activity near the Alaskan volcano doesn’t necessarily indicate the peak could erupt any time soon.

David Pyle, a volcanologist at the University of Oxford, offered professional insight into researchers’ new findings about Mount Edgecumbe. And, per his account, “dormant” doesn’t actually mean what we think it does. Still, he assured us that we’re likely not in any immediate danger from any Mount Edgecumbe eruptions.

“In the past 20 years, there have been many examples where scientists have used [satellite imagery and seismic activity] together to watch new magma arrive beneath a volcano. And in most of these cases, the disturbance quiets down after a few weeks or months, with no eruption.”

Pyle continued, “‘Dormant’ is a word that is often used to describe volcanoes that haven’t erupted for decades or centuries, and perhaps look completely quiet. But the implication is that dormant volcanoes might erupt again.”

So, while an 800-year-long slumber might qualify Mount Edgecumbe as dormant, there’s still (potentially) plenty of heat and magma beneath the earth’s surface, waiting to make its way out.

How Scientists Are Tracking the Alaskan Volcano’s Activity:

So we know there’s been recent seismic activity at Mount Edgecumbe. But where exactly has the volcano become active and how long do we have until it erupts? Well, thanks to a research partnership between the Alaska Volcano Observatory and the Alaska Satellite Facility, we do have some answers about the long-dormant volcano’s potential future eruptions.

Pyle explained that in order for scientists to track the peak’s activity, they had to deploy multiple seismometers, instruments that can detect the smallest trembles, even ones non-discernible to humans.

“Seismometers can detect very small tremors and earthquakes,” Pyle said, “much smaller than would be perceptible to a human. If we have an array of seismometers placed around a volcano, we can use the earthquake signals to locate the place where the earthquakes are being triggered.”

Satellite radar is also important to this kind of research, Pyle explained. He said, “They can measure very small changes in the shape of the Earth’s surface.” Typically, as the news outlet highlights, a change in the earth’s surface means that somewhere below, there is magma pushing upward, trying to force its way out and shifting the land.