This month marks the 36th year since Mount St. Helens erupted, the deadliest volcanic event in the continental United States’ history. LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) coupled with GIS mapping capabilities is allowing geologists to better understand the Earth’s geology in Washington’s volcanic region.
Mapping the state’s volcanoes is incredibly valuable to assessing risks to downstream communities that could be hit by lahars (those incredibly destructive mudflows that occur after volcanic eruptions, wrecking everything in their paths).
The use of LIDAR with these maps helps identify spots for future study, like this image that shows 2,000 year-old pyroclastic flow deposits that geologists could not have known about without the LIDAR technology.
Ultimately, having a map that allows for accessible data regarding Washington’s volcanoes enables scientists and geologists to more easily understand the current and future risk associated with each volcano. As Washington continues to implement LIDAR and GIS capabilities, their interactive map will become more useful (and colorful).