Thursday, October 7, 2004

When volcano erupts, he's in his element



By Dan Klepal
Enquirer staff writer

The eruptions at Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington state will teach many lessons to scientists - from the Pacific Northwest to Greater Cincinnati.

Attila Kilinc, a professor of geochemistry at the University of Cincinnati, has been studying volcanoes for 34 years. For him, Mount St. Helens provides a study in why, and under what conditions, volcanoes erupt.

[img]
Dr. Attila Kilinc, a professor of geochemistry at the University of Cincinnati, has studied volcano activity extensively.
(Enquirer photo/Michael E. Keating)
It's important work, since some 500 million people around the world live in the shadow of one volcano or another. Kilinc also studies volcanoes in Mexico, Hawaii, China and Iceland, and has devoted his career to understanding volcanoes so geologists can better protect those people.

"It is a big problem," Kilinc said of the number of people living in the danger zones. "Our ultimate goal is to predict how any given volcano will behave so we can protect people. But in order to make a prediction, you have to understand how volcanoes work - the physics and chemistry of the process."

Mount St. Helens has been venting steam and ash since Friday. But officials with the U.S. Geological Survey dropped the alert level around the volcano on Wednesday.

Kilinc is studying several aspects of volcanic eruptions, including:

• Why magma forms and how it reacts with water.

• Why magma comes to the surface.

Kilinc and a former student are working with samples from Mount St. Helens' ash and rock collected after eruptions in 1980. They are hoping magma will come to the surface during this eruption and form a new dome on the volcano, so they can compare the new dome with the old and see if the magma's composition has changed.

"How much water does it have, has it crystallized?" Kilinc said, referring to some of the questions they hope to answer. "The eruption in 1980 is what triggered us to do these experiments."

Even Ohio has seen a volcano or two. According to the USGS, volcanic activity between 1.4 billion and 990 million years ago formed a mountain range in eastern Ohio. Those mountains eroded over 340 million years, and were reduced to gently rolling hills.

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The Associated Press contributed. E-mail dklepal@enquirer.com




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