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Ongoing genesis of a novel glaciovolcanic cave system in the crater of Mount St. Helens, Washington, USA

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Author(s): Linda Sobolewski, Christian Stenner, Charlotte Huser, Tobias Berghaus, Eduardo Cartaya, Andreas Pflitsch

Document Type:
Publisher: Journal of Cave and Karst Studies
Published Year: 2022
Volume: 84
Number: 2
Pages: 51 to 65
DOI Identifier: 10.4311/2021ES0113
ISBN Identifier:

Mount St. Helens, one of the highest-risk volcanoes in the Cascade Volcanic Arc, hosts a novel system of glaciovolcanic caves that has formed around the 2004-2008 lava dome. From 2014 to 2021 a multidisciplinary research team systematically explored and mapped these new caves to ascertain their characteristics. Air and fumarole temperatures, volume flow rates, and wind regimes were also monitored. More than 3.0 km of cave passages have formed in a semicircular pattern in the volcanic crater and provide an opportunity to (1) observe cave development over time, (2) identify low temperature fumaroles as the main driving force for cave formation, (3) verify the impact of seasonal snow accumulation on cave climate, and (4) assess heat distribution in subglacial and subaerial portions of the new lava dome. Glaciovolcanic cave systems on Mount St. Helens are comparatively young (<10 years) and the most dynamic in the Pacific Northwest. Observed cave expansion during the study suggests ongoing genesis and future formation of interconnected systems. However, further expansion may also be limited by increasing fumarole temperatures towards the upper parts of the lava dome, cave instability due to snow overload, or variable subglacial volcanic heat output. New glaciovolcanic cave system development provides a unique barometer of volcanic activity on glacier-mantled volcanoes and to study the subglacial environment. We present the results of eight years of initial study within this dynamic cave system, and discuss a pathway towards future longitudinal analyses.

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Suggested Citations:
In Text Citation:
Sobolewski and others (2022) or (Sobolewski et al., 2022)

References Citation:
Sobolewski, L., C. Stenner, C. Huser, T. Berghaus, E. Cartaya, and A. Pflitsch, 2022, Ongoing genesis of a novel glaciovolcanic cave system in the crater of Mount St. Helens, Washington, USA: Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 51-65, doi: 10.4311/2021ES0113.