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

The RCMP photo shows cannabis that was seized as part of the E-Prominent investigation. (RCMP)
Four Langley and Surrey men charged in 2019 pot export case

Warrants were executed on properties in Surrey, Langley and Delta in June and August 2019

A veteran posed for a picture by the Langley City cenotaph at the 2019 Remembrance Day service. This year, because of the pandemic, organizers are moving the event online, with a few extras. (Langley Advance Times file)
Online Remembrance Day in Langley City will have extras for viewers

Video visits with Fraser Blues flight team, as well as veterans, are planned

A police cruiser is blocking the right lane eastbound on 56th Avenue in Langley at 272nd Street on the morning of Oct. 27, 2020. (Langley Township)
On Thursday, Oct. 22, the day before Aldergrove’s Madison Lewis turns one, family and friend celebrated by attending a blood donor drive in her honour. (Courtesy Lewis Family)
Blood drive held in honour of one year old’s birthday

Aldergrove family organized clinic to give back after Madison Lewis underwent open heart surgery

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

The ‘new normal’ for hockey parents in Chilliwack and elsewhere in B.C., watching their kids from outside of the arena due to COVID-19 protocols. (Submitted photo)
Chilliwack hockey parents petition to be let back in the arena

Refused access due to pandemic protocols, parents are now applying pressure to loosen the rules

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Christian school in Chilliwack closes for COVID-19 isolation measures, moving to online learning

Mt. Cheam school principal confirms coronavirus exposure led to staffing reduction and need to close

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Swoop Airlines. (Contributed)
Daily direct flights between Abbotsford and Toronto start Wednesday

Swoop announces new operations at Toronto Pearson Airport

Commissioner Austin Cullen listens to introductions before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver, on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. money laundering inquiry hears of $800,000 and more in bags, luggage, backpacks

The lottery corporation has said it consistently reported suspicious transactions to Fintrac

Most Read