Kalles USGS visit
Kalles students receive visit from geologists
Posted on 07/01/2019
Kalles students receive visit from geologists

Students at Kalles Junior High had the opportunity to learn about emergency plans, lava flows, eruptions, geology, plus a whole lot more following the Puyallup Lahar Evacuation Exercise on May 17, 2019.

Seven geologists from the U.S. Geological Survey, Cascades Volcano Observatory; Mount Rainier National Park; and Washington Emergency Management Division visited more than 200 students in their classrooms to talk about Mount Rainier as a volcano.

Carolyn Driedger serves as a hydrologist, public information officer, and outreach coordinator at the USGS-Cascades Volcano Observatory. She was one of the speakers and provided the information below on the visit and interaction with students.

What topics were covered?  There were seven of us from the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory; Mount Rainier National Park; and Washington Emergency Management Division. Each geologist spoke about Mount Rainier as a beautiful volcano that all of us in the region are privileged to call our own.  With privilege comes responsibility--to know the hazards, prepare them, and to be ready to respond when told to do so.  The scope of topics ranged from how Mount Rainier formed from lava flows, and how erosional forces that tear it down, and the hazards the are a result--such as lahars (volcanic mudflows).  We talked about how practicing evacuations and creating a plan for actions and communications with your family is the way that millions of people around the world live safely around volcanoes. 

What was the purpose of the event?  We wanted to provide background information about lahars and lahar hazards--to lessen the sense of mystery.  What you know about, you can plan for, and with planning and practice, you can reduce the fear factor and learn to act rationally.  As scientists we get to visit areas around the world where volcanic eruptions have found communities unprepared.  But, we also get to visit places where hundreds of thousands of people are prepared and live in complete safety.  This encourages us. Still, if we scientists don't tell people about the volcanoes and the hazards associated with them, what is the point of studying them? 

Did you discuss career paths or mainly emergency preparedness?   Some of us described career paths.  We let students know that there are many ways to make a difference in reducing hazards from volcanoes and earthquakes.  Our society needs people on scientific career paths studying geology and geophysics, but we also need electronics technicians, and emergency management specialists, and educators who can teach in classrooms and for all community members. 

 

Examples of what students learned?  During countless eruptions over a half-million years, Mount Rainier was constructed by the accumulation of hundreds of overlapping lava flows. Mount Rainier has erupted on at least 40 occasions during the past 10,000 years. Erosion has also played a role in the shaping of Mount Rainier--from glacier gouging, landslides, and lahars (volcanic mudflows). During eruptions, lahars caused by melting of snow and ice have traveled to great distance (40 miles+) down river valleys leading away from Mount Rainier.  Until a lahar that occurred 5,600 years ago, the space we call Puyallup today was part of Puget Sound. But, it was filled in by lahars and the sediment carried by rivers for thousands of years afterwards. It appears that at least on one occasion when Mount Rainier was not erupting, a large landslide fell from the west side of Mount Rainier and flowed as far as the outskirts of Puyallup. Geologists are virtually certain that Mount Rainier will erupt again and that lahars will again flow across the Puyallup valley. We talked about this with the students as an illustration of why it is important to practice lahar evacuations. Safety during a lahar lies just a mile or two away on high ground--off the valley floor. Safety is reachable, and drills help people to do so effectively when a real lahar happens.

What kinds of questions did the students ask?   Students asked lots of questions about which volcano will erupt next, how a volcanic reawakening will unfold, and how to stop volcanoes from erupting. As with so many things in life, we cannot predict which volcano will erupt next, and can't stop volcanoes from erupting. We can do proper monitoring of the volcanoes and prepare our society to respond safely during eruptions.     

What did they learn from the Geologists at Mt. Rainier National Park?  Mount Rainier is a pretty cool place to visit, and that the same geologic processes that made that beautiful volcano are the ones that will tear it down through erosion through the action of glaciers, rivers, and landslides. A lot of people don't realize that when they visit Mount Rainier, they are walking over cooled lava flows.

Do you have any publications that may have been shared with students that day?   Yes. we pointed to the location of publications online Mount Rainier—Living Safely With a Volcano in Your Backyard  https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/fs20083062  ; Lahar--River of volcanic mud and debris https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/fs20183024

What does your job as a hydrologist entail?  Hydrologists study water in all its forms. My job as a hydrologist has focused on glaciers and small debris flows that happen in glacial valleys (small versions of lahars). But, you can't study glacier-generated debris flows too much before recognizing the need to inform people downstream. Now, I spend much of my time working with public officials and community leaders about these hazards.

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More than 8,000 students and staff from twelve schools in the Puyallup valley successfully evacuated their buildings during the Puyallup Lahar Evacuation Exercise on May 17 and safely walked a portion of the route they would take during an actual lahar.

The evacuation exercise was the culmination of year-long planning between the City of Puyallup and the Puyallup School District. It was designed to test and improve the city and school district’s ability to evacuate students and staff from the Puyallup valley in the event of an incoming lahar from Mount Rainier. Learn more about the Puyallup Lahar Evacuation Exercise.