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Geology of the Pacific Northwest




Washington's Mt. Rainier, a stratovolcano which is over 14,410 feet, is the tallest volcano in the Cascade mountain range. It has been discharging lahars (mudflows) and landslides for a half million years but more often in recent years (1910, 1947, and 1963).

Deposits of at least 55 lahars emanating from Mount Rainier within the last 10,000 years have been identified in its larger valleys ( Two lahars added onto Puget Sound's shoreline–the Osceola and Paradise mudflows. The Osceola Mudflow occurred around 5,700 years ago when Mt. Rainier's northeast section slid down the mountain and traveled from Mt. Rainier to Enumclaw in the space of one and a half hours (It takes an hour to drive the same distance). Lava flows, mud flows, and eruptions of volcanic ash and debris filled in a crater created by the lahar.

Major casualities and damage would be sustained by more than 1.5 million people living within range of the volcano, were it to erupt again. Mt. Rainier is a threat for lahars because:

Mt. Rainier harbors more ice than most of the other U.S. volcanos. Strong shaking could trigger avalanches, floods, and slides of rock, mud, and debris into numerous parks, streams, rivers, and cities, endangering thousands of people.

Since earthquakes are quite often the best indicator of a possible eruption, geologists closely monitor the seismicity of the volcano through the Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network, jointly operated by universities in Washington and Oregon. Scientists also conduct geochemical and geodetic studies in the area.

Fallout to the Seattle-Tahoma populations from Mt. Rainier eruptions include:


Mt. Rainier Lahars
Summary of Notable Events at Mount Rainier
Digging Up Rotten Rock (Mt. Rainier)
Types of Volcano Hazards
Landslide News and Information (USGS; 23 July 2001)
Preliminary Map Showing Exceedance Probabilities for Landslides in Seattle (USGS; 25 August 2000)
Puget Sound Landslides (Washington State Department of Ecology)


Send comments to Rob Viens (e-mail: or call him at his Bellevue Community College office at (425) 564-3158. Office hours are by appointment.

© 2001-2002, Rob Viens, Bellevue Community College. All rights reserved.
Page updated on 5 September 2002  • 
Web development by Jacqueline Engle (URL:, summer 2001