Here's why Mount Baker got all steamed up last weekend

Mount Baker hiccuped on Saturday morning, but such belches of gas and steam are an everyday occurrence — even though a big white plume atop the active volcano drew the attention of many awestruck Bellingham-area residents.

"The crater degasses all day, every day," said Dave Tucker, a board member of the Mount Baker Volcano Research Center and a research associate in the Geology Department at Western Washington University.

"(It's) sometimes visible, sometimes not. But gas clouds are always present. I saw a tiny plume myself on Saturday," Tucker said.

But others were more impressed.

"Biggest venting I've ever witnessed on Baker," said Nadja Rua, a 10-year resident of Anacortes. She took a series of photos from different locations over three hours.

"(I) have only seen steam plumes a few times every few years, and only one vent for usually no more than an hour. This just kept going," Rua said.

Rua was among several people who shared photos of the event online.

Both Tucker and researchers at the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network said there's been no increase in seismic activity around the 10,781-foot stratovolcano, which boasts the Cascade Range's second most-thermally active crater.

0319 Mt. Baker steam photo
Steam vents from Mount Baker the morning of March 17, 2018. Edgar Smith Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Mount Baker is about 30 miles east of Bellingham, and is visible throughout Whatcom County and beyond.

Known as "Koma Kulshan" or "Kulshan" to the indigenous Lummi people, the volcano been highly active for about 10,000 years and has erupted 13 times in recorded history, according to Volcano World at Oregon State University. Its last eruption was in 1880.

"Visibility (of the steam plume) depends on emission volume, lighting, wind, and air temperature and humidity," Tucker said. "It is 99 percent water vapor."

A relief map of Mount Baker is shown March 19, 2018, at the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network's website. Triangles show location of seismographs. No recent earthquake activity has been recorded in the region. Pacific Northwest Seismic Network Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Meteorologist Jay Albrecht at the National Weather Service in Seattle said such steam venting is more visible on humid days. There were no humidity measurements available for the Mount Baker summit on Saturday, he said.

'"If the air is really dry, the steam evaporates quickly," Albrecht said.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @bhamMitty

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