When you’re on top of a volcano, the fires below eventually make their way up to the surface and apparently there’s a lot of activity going on right now.
At first we thought some hobo was can cooking but then we realized the mountain was on fire.
Mammoth Mountain is a young volcano on the southwest rim of Long Valley Caldera, a large volcanic depression in eastern California. The Long Valley area, well known for its superb skiing, hiking, and camping, has been volcanically active for about 4 million years. The most recent volcanic eruptions in the region occurred about 200 years ago, and earthquakes frequently shake the area. Because of this, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) operates an extensive network of instruments to monitor the continuing unrest in the Long Valley area.
Numerous small earthquakes occurred beneath Mammoth Mountain from May to November 1989. Data collected from monitoring instruments during those months indicated that a small body of magma (molten rock) was rising through a fissure beneath the mountain. During the next year, U.S. Forest Service rangers noticed areas of dead and dying trees on the mountain. After drought and insect infestations were eliminated as causes, a geologic explanation was suspected. USGS scientists then made measurements and discovered that the roots of the trees were being killed by exceptionally high concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas in the soil. Today, areas of dead and dying trees at Mammoth Mountain total more than 100 acres. The town of Mammoth Lakes, just east of this volcano, has not been affected.
In 1994, scientists detected high concentrations of CO2 gas in the soil on Mammoth Mountain. This invisible gas, seeping from beneath the volcano, is killing trees on the sides of the mountain and can pose a threat to humans. Recent measurements indicate that the total rate of CO2 gas emission at Mammoth Mountain is close to 300 tons per day.
When CO2 from soil leaves the ground, it normally mixes with the air and dissipates rapidly. CO2 is heavier than air, however, and it can collect at high concentrations in the lower parts of depressions and enclosures, posing a potential danger to people. Breathing air with more than 30% CO2 can very quickly cause unconsciousness and death. Therefore, poorly ventilated areas above and below ground can be dangerous in areas of CO2 seepage. Where thick snowpacks accumulate in winter, the CO2 can be trapped within and beneath the snow. Dangerous levels of CO2 have been measured in pits dug in the snowpack in tree-kill areas on Mammoth Mountain, and snow-cave camping in such areas is not advised. CO2 gas seeping from the ground at Mammoth Mountain is likely derived from magma (molten rock) beneath the volcano. In 1989, rising magma may have opened cracks, allowing large amounts of trapped CO2 gas to leak upward along faults. High concentrations of CO2 in soil can kill the roots of trees. CO2 gas is heavier than air, and when it leaks from the soil, it can collect in snowbanks, depressions, and poorly ventilated enclosures, such as cabins and tents, posing a potential danger to people.