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*

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 regional district’s Penticton offices. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Building and bylaw service up in 2020 for RDOS

More complaints were resolved and building permits issued in 2020 than 2019

The next Canadian census will be held in May, 2021. The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen is urging its residents to complete the census form online. (Statistics Canada)
Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen urges participation in census

National census will be held in May, 2021 with COVID-19 protocols in place

Medical chief of staff Dr. Brad Raison of Penticton Regional Hospital and John Moorhouse of the Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation look over one of the rooms in the David E. Kampe Tower in 2017 while the tower was under construction. (Western News File)
After 46 years in media, Moorhouse retires

John Moorhouse spent the last six years with the South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation

Calls for potential overdoses in B.C. spiked in 2020, especially in the Okanagan - Shuswap. Pictured above is a BCEHS re-enactment of paramedics attending an overdose. (BCHES)
Overdose calls spike in 2020 across the Okanagan – Shuswap

Stats show every major community in Okanagan - Shuswap increased in calls for potential overdoses

The BC SPCA is adapting its fundraising after cancelling events due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
BC SPCA gets creative with fundraising as pandemic continues

The non-profit’s in-person fundraising events all had to be cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions

(File Photo)
‘10 to 12 per cent’: Interior Health corrects COVID positivity rates in Fernie area

IH say the rates are not as high as previously claimed by the region’s top doctor

Francina Mettes and Thomas Schouten with the 200-page document they submitted in December of 2018. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Dutch man, 94, facing unwanted trip home can stay in B.C. with wife of 45 years

Immigration offices cuts red tape so couple of 45 years can stay together in Victoria area

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Premier, health officials to discuss next steps in COVID immunization plan

Nearly 31,000 doses of vaccine the province expected by Jan. 29 could be curtailed due to production issues

Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Hamonic grabs Montreal Canadiens’ Josh Anderson by the face during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horvat scores winner as Canucks dump Habs 6-5 in shootout thriller

Vancouver and Montreal clash again Thursday night

Interior Health has declared the Cariboo Chilcotin a community cluster. (Angie Mindus photo)
Interior Health declares Cariboo Chilcotin region a COVID-19 cluster, 215 cases since Jan. 1

Most cases are related to transmission at social events and gatherings in Williams Lake

Vernon Fire Rescue Services responded to a single-vehicle rollover Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, after a vehicle came into contact with a pedestrian light pole at Kalamalka Lake Road and 14th Avenue. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Minor injuries in rollover after vehicle hits Vernon crosswalk pole

The vehicle flipped onto its side, closing Kalamalka Lake Road

Most Read