Volcanoes of Canada
Volcanology in the Geological Survey of Canada
|How the GSC studies volcanoes|
Scientists at the Geological Survey of Canada are involved in a wide
range of projects related to Canadian, American, Caribbean
and South American volcanoes. Most of our work falls into
4 categories: gathering of baseline geological data, gathering
of baseline geophysical data, emergency preparation work,
and international aid. In this section we describe our main
recent and ongoing projects.
|Gathering of baseline geological data|
In order to understand where volcanoes are and how they are likely
to behave, especially if nobody has seen them erupt, it's
necessary to make geological maps of their deposits. This
involves time-consuming field work to map the distribution
of the rocks that make up the volcano, chemical and dating
analyses of the deposits, and detailed interpretations of
the volcano's past behaviour. The idea is to figure out the
frequency, style and size of past eruptions because a volcano's
past activity is the best predictor of its future activity.
Over the past century we have been building this database,
and it is a small subset of this information that makes up
the Catalogue of Canadian Volcanoes on this site. Once this
database is developed, it becomes possible to prioritize which
volcanoes represent significant hazards to Canadians and deserve
more detailed work: developing detailed hazard maps, increasing
geophysical surveillance, and developing emergency plans.
Our database of volcanic geology is considerable but the size of the region
and the number of volcanoes in it present a significant challenge.
As a result we are continuing to gather geological information
on a number of volcanoes, mainly through participation in
student projects and collaboration with university colleagues.
In the last few years we participated in the completion of
a geological map of Hoodoo Mountain in northern B.C., which
was largely accomplished by Ben Edwards as part of his Ph.D.
project while a student at the University of British Columbia
(UBC), under the supervision of Prof. J.K. Russell. Part of
the work on Hoodoo Mountain involved an expedition whose goal
was to estimate the volume of ice covering the volcano's summit
- click here to see a pictorial
description of the expedition.
Starting in the summer of 2001, another Ph.D. student, Melanie Kelman,
will proceed with work on the Mount Cayley volcanic complex.
Melanie is co-supervised by Prof. Russell and Dr. Catherine
Hickson of the GSC. In addition, there is an ongoing project
led by Dr. Lionel Jackson of the GSC in Yukon Territory in which
Crystal Huscroft, a M.Sc. student co-supervised with Dr. Brent
Ward of Simon Fraser University (SFU), is establishing the geo-environmental
history of part of the Yukon River. The river was periodically
blocked by lava flows of the Fort Selkirk volcanic field.
Additional projects on Mount Meager, Mount Silverthrone and Mount Churchill
are being planned.
|Gathering of baseline geophysical data|
In order to understand how lively our volcanoes are right now, it's
necessary to monitor them for volcanic earthquakes. Volcanoes
with living magma plumbing systems normally exhibit frequent
small, shallow earthquakes or swarms of earthquakes that don't
lead directly to eruptions. However, volcanoes which exhibit
significant seismic activity appear to be most likely to erupt.
In addition, increased earthquake activity tends to be a harbinger
of an eruption. Unfortunately volcanic earthquakes tend to
be small, usually with magnitudes less than 3. It is difficult
to monitor a large region like western Canada for such events.
However, we do maintain a widespread seismic network for monitoring
tectonic-type earthquakes produced by motion along faults
and between tectonic plates. The same network allows us to
do basic surveillance on our volcanoes. Dr. Mark Stasiuk of
the GSC Pacific in Vancouver and Taimi Mulder of the GSC Pacific
in Sydney recently initiated a historical study of small earthquakes
in western Canada in order to define the activity levels of
our volcanoes. The results will be used to prioritize the
volcanoes for enhanced seismic monitoring, pending funding.
|Emergency preparation work|
A significant part of our work involves participating in emergency
preparation plans for earthquakes and volcanoes, working mainly
with the Provincial
Emergency Program. Regarding volcanoes in particular, the
most likely impact would be on domestic and international air
traffic. Volcanic ash and airplanes don't mix! For this reason
we have developed a communication plan called IVENP to deal
with ash-producing eruptions. IVENP stands for Interagency Volcanic
Event Notification Plan. The plan is essentially a list of instructions
for relevant agencies to communicate efficiently and facilitate
information reaching air traffic control, so they can re-route
airplanes and avoid ash clouds. In addition to the GSC, the
IVENP involves Environment Canada, Emergency Preparedness Canada,
Emergency Program, Transport Canada Aviation, Nav Canada,
the Yukon Emergency Measures Organization, the RCMP, and the
Airline Pilots Association. All these agencies meet each year
to ensure that the IVENP is up-to-date.
Apart from impacts on air traffic, at present few of Canada's volcanoes
are likely to have a large and direct impact on Canadians in
the event of a small to moderate size eruption, because of the
small population and lack of infrastructure near the volcanoes.
There are, however, a few important exceptions to this rule.
A significant eruption of any of the Garibaldi belt volcanoes
would significantly impact the Sea-to-Sky highway and communities
like Pemberton, Whistler and Squamish, and possibly Vancouver.
For this reason we are planning for developing hazard maps and
emergency plans for Mount Meager and Mount Cayley. In addition
there are significant hazards from "almost" Canadian
volcanoes that require planning on our part, for example Mount
Baker. In the event of an eruption, Mount Baker has the potential
to send mudflows into the Fraser River valley. As a result the
GSC volcanologists have participated with the U.S. Geological
Survey in the development of emergency plans for an eruption
of Mount Baker. The Baker/Glacier
Peak Coordination Plan was completed and released in 2001.
Many countries suffer from the effects of frequent, violent eruptions
and don't have the resources to deal with them. For this reason,
as part of Canada's international development effort, the GSC
participates in volcanic hazards work with a variety of other
countries. For example, since 1995 we have loaned a Correlation
Spectrometer (COSPEC) to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory
in Montserrat (West Indies). We half-own the instrument with
the Canadian company Resonance Ltd. The COSPEC is a commonly-used
volcano monitoring tool, designed to measure the amount of sulphur
dioxide gas in the air. The amount of this gas that a volcano
produces is crudely proportional to it's level of activity.
In addition, Dr. Mark Stasiuk of the GSC Pacific office in Vancouver
maintains collaborative ties with the Seismic Research Unit
(Trinidad), which is the regional Caribbean agency responsible
for earthquake and volcano monitoring. At present Dr. Stasiuk
and the Seismic Research Unit are completing a hazard map and
seismic study of Dominica, which experienced a major volcanic
earthquake swarm from 1998 to 2000. Finally, we have entered
the first phase of managing a CIDA-funded project designed to
mitigate volcano, earthquake and landslide hazards in poor Andean
communities in South America. We will be working with Geological
Surveys in up to 7 South American countries to help them create
hazard maps, educate the public and develop emergency plans.