Part of the Bay Area News Group

geology in the fast lane

By enelson
Friday, August 18th, 2006 at 5:30 pm in Safety.

Photo of Mt. Saint Helens from http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/Volcanoes

MSH80_st_helens_eruption_plume_07-22-80_med.jpgKen Gosting is a Yosemite institution. From his home in Midpines, he monitors major events in the park, such as the rockslide blocking one of the park’s three ways in, and transmits the news to media outlets in the Bay Area with remarkable reliability.

Call me parochial, but while it is sometimes interesting to hear how hard it is to get to the park, it’s not something the Bay Area transportation grid couldn’t  live without. But bless him, Gosting keeps calling with updates on the slide and fascinating tales of crows (maybe it was ravens?) attacking parked cars and stealing their rubber windshield wiper blades.

Today he hit paydirt. The road is being opened with the help of Caltrans and some temporary bridges to take motorists to the opposite side of the Merced River and back to the road.

Hold on … there’s more.

There’s still a lot of rock and stuff above the canyon, threatening to dam up the river and even knock out the temporary bypass. For that reason, Caltrans is closing the bridge at night, when you can’t “watch for falling rock.”

To keep tabs on the 42 million cubic yards of slipping slate, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey are planning to airlift onto the site some sophisticated global positioning system monitors so they will be able to track even slight movements in the mass of material. They’ll also be setting up seismographs to detect earth tremors, explained Ed Harp, a research geologist with USGS who, Gosting reported, was scampering around on the rockslide to the amazement of state authorities who would only appraise it from the safety of a helicopter.

Until they were needed for the safety of approching park workers, locals and vacationers, these monitors were employed on Mt. Saint Helens to measure subtle bulges that might precede an eruption. This could be, although Harp wasn’t certain, the first time they’ve been employed for this kind of duty.

But let’s face it, Mt. Saint Helens has hardly been a vacation spot since it blew up in 1980. Yosemite has a backlog of bookings for all sorts of activities and our tax dollars are put to much better use keeping the road safe there than they are watching some ornery old volcano.  

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