Team members from Simon Fraser University work on a study of fumaroles, or gas vents, on Mount Meager in Lillooet, B.C., in a 2016 handout photograph. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-SFU, Gioachino Roberti, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Climate change, receding glaciers increase landslide risk on B.C.’s Mount Meager

Climate change is causing glaciers atop Mount Meager, in British Columbia, to shrink increasing the chances of landslides and even a new eruption, says one expert.

Climate change is causing glaciers atop Mount Meager in British Columbia to shrink, increasing the chances of landslides and even a new eruption, says an expert studying the volcano.

Glyn Williams-Jones, a volcanologist from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., has been studying the fumaroles, or gas venting, of water vapour, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide from the volcano for about two years. He and his team of students are also examining the increased risk of landslides caused by receding glaciers on the volcano.

Williams-Jones said the release of the gases worries him.

“The reason those fumaroles are coming, we believe now, is not because the volcano is more active but rather because of warming climate … those glaciers have been getting thinner,” he said. “There is this interplay between climate, ice-covered volcano and the response of those volcanoes.”

The churning gases don’t mean an eruption is imminent, he said, but the volcano is definitely not extinct.

Mount Meager is northwest of Whistler and was the last volcano in British Columbia to have a large explosive eruption, which was 2,400 years ago.

“That’s a blink of an eye in geological terms,” Williams-Jones said.

Read more: Ignoring climate change poses potential catastrophe for B.C.

Read more: Canada not slowing emissions from oil and gas: environmental groups

Volcanoes have their own characteristics and personalities, he said.

“It is a grumpy volcano in the sense that it has had some very large eruptions and also had these extremely large landslides. So I’d say yes, it’s on the grumpy side.”

Mount Meager has been forming over the last two million years, so it can be thought of as ”multiple volcanoes old,” each sitting on top of each other, he said.

It is surrounded by ice and glaciers and the presence of a well-known hot spring nearby is evidence of its activity, he said.

Heat from the volcano and warming temperatures are thinning the glaciers, changing the way water moves through the rocks, he added.

The water’s movement and the acidic nature of the volcanic gases makes the rock of the volcano ”rotten” and unstable, William-Jones said.

The slope of the volcano is moving northwest at the rate of about three centimetres a month, which increases the potential for a landslide, he said.

A landslide in 2010 from Mount Meager unleashed about 53 million cubic metres of rock and created a dam on Meager Creek about 300 metres wide and two kilometres long.

About 5,000 people downstream were evacuated because of the threat of a rapid release of the lake that formed behind the dam.

William-Jones said it’s possible the next landslide could be 10 times that size, with the greatest threat to residents of the Pemberton Valley.

If that happens, the change in pressure could destabilize the magma chamber beneath the volcano leading to an eruption, he said.

“There are a lot of big ifs and a lot of dominoes would have to line up for that to happen but we think this is a plausible thing to be concerned about.”

Williams-Jones said he’s not being alarmist, but there’s a need for monitoring and government attention.

He couldn’t say if or when the volcano would erupt, a calculation made even more difficult by the lack of data.

“The thing about volcanoes is that they’ve got their own personalities and they’re extremely unpredictable,” William-Jones said. “To say when Meager is going to reactivate is anyone’s guess. Even the best monitored volcanoes can catch you unawares and by surprise.”

Williams-Jones was at the site in September and said looking down into the mouth of the volcano is like looking into a cave about 50 metres long and 30 metres wide. The ice is about 100 metres at its thickest and gets down to about 50 metres as it thins around the caves.

There is no ”mouth of hell” with a big, glowing, red or orange mass of lava, he said.

“What you’re looking at is this inclined opening with steam and gas pouring out. And melting water from the ice pouring down into it,” he said.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Poppy donation boxes have been delivered to restaurants, cafes, stores and places of businesses in Prince Rupert by the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 127 for the 2020 National Poppy Campaign. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
National poppy campaign restricted by COVID-19

Prince Rupert Royal Canadian legion expects less donations to offer vital assistance to local vets

Elena Tran 9, grade five student at Conrad Elementary School learns about Truth and Reconciliation on Oct. 21 with the story of Chanie Wenjack who died at the side of rail lines while fleeing a residential school in 1967. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Conrad Elementary students learn of ‘reconciliACTION’ during Secret Path Week

Secret Path Week from Oct. 17 to 22 commemorates the passing of Chani Wenjack and Gord Downie

More than $10,000 in donations and toys was presented to the Salvation Army by the Prince Rupert Harley riders on Oct. 20, from the 39th annual Toy Ride held on Sept 26. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Harley Riders rode to victory with $10,000 donation to Salvation Army

The 39th annual Prince Rupert Harley Riders gifted more than 280 toys from the annual Toy Ride

The Prince Rupert Port Authority Land Use Plan will guide the growth within lands and waters under its jurisdiction and facilitate Canada’s trade with the world for the next 20 years. (Photo: Supplied by Port of Prince Rupert)
Land Use Plan finalized by Port Authority

PRPA Land Use Plan plan guides the growth and trade for next 20 years within its lands and waters

Such sweetness with all this candy. Dylan Kennedy 7, with his mom Kerri Kennedy volunteer at the Halloween Fest Committee event to bag candy for students in SD 52 on Oct. 19. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
How sweet it is

Bags of candy were assembled by more than 25 Halloween Fest Volunteers for distribution to S.D. 52

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Charges laid against Prince George man, 39, in drug trafficking probe

Tyler Aaron Gelowitz is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 18

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

Most Read