Mount Baker: Hazardous even during snowy slumber

Mount Baker's Carmelo Crater at the summit is breached by Roosevelt Glacier, view to the southeast, Washington.
Mount Baker’s Carmelo Crater at the summit is breached by Roosevelt Glacier, view to the southeast, Washington. Photo by John Scurlock for USGS.

Even sleeping beneath tons of snow and ice for the past century-plus, Mount Baker in center Whatcom County poses a number of hazards for the considerable population living in its shadow. The number of glaciers that cover the 10,781-feet tall stratovolcano trails only Mount Rainier in the lower 48.

And though it has been more than 150 years since Mount Baker last erupted, it will again someday, which is why DNR and its Division of Geology and Earth Resources help map, monitor and educate the public, governments and others about its hazards. May is Washington’s Volcano Preparedness Month, and DNR has all you need to know about how the stunning mammoths dominating much of our skyline handle the geothermal pressure bubbling below.

Explosions in 1843 were seen from Bellingham, a mere 30 miles west. More activity was spotted in 1975 when Mount Baker sent off several emissions of volcanic gases from Sherman Crater. Officials closed the area with concerns that a landslide would crash into Baker Lake.

It’s last major eruption, some 6,700 years ago, collapsed a flank of the mountain and sent lahars rushing through the Nooksack River valley and into Baker Lake to the east.

But it isn’t just eruptions that pose hazards for those living near Mount Baker.

Mount Baker hazards
Courtesy USGS, Lisa Faust, 2014

Flank failures and lahars can originate from Mount Baker without the volcanic activity that typically provides warning. Our colleagues at the USGS point to a spontaneous flank failure on Mount Meager in British Columbia in 2010 as an example.

The area nearest to Mount Baker is still largely unpopulated but now we have the town of Concrete and other settlements along State Highway 20, a few miles away. And then there is Bellingham and other populated river drainages that would become pathways for deadly lahars in a future volcanic eruption.

Here is the current alert status for Cascade Range volcanoes, including Mount Baker, from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cascades Volcano Observatory.

Join our discussion on Facebook and let DNR know how you stay prepared for volcanic hazards.