Today’s residents, as well as residents of centuries past, consider Mount Rainier “the spiritual and cultural icon of the Pacific Northwest.” As a backdrop for many of the State’s residents, Mount Rainier offers beauty, solace, inspiration, and challenge. The mountain sets the daily mood for thousands of people who gaze at and respect it. There is no mistaking this object of admiration when people smile and remark that, “the mountain is out!”
Yet, the origin of Mount Rainier, formed by volcanic processes and now heavily laden with snow and ice, remains an enigma to many admirers. During the 1980s, volcanologists from around the world voted Mount Rainier as one of 17 volcanoes most worthy of additional study because of the hazard potential to large population centers nearby. Subsequent research indicates that Mount Rainier, though quiet since the nineteenth century, is very much an “active volcano” with potential to erupt again and disrupt the life of Pacific Northwest residents. Following days to months or more of warning, Mount Rainier could erupt lava and ash and melt snow and ice to form lahars (volcanic mudflows). Or, Mount Rainier could simply warm up briefly, jolt us from our apathy, and then return to slumber for many more years.
Until such time, the mountain is ours to explore. Living with a Volcano in Your Backyard—An Educator’s Guide with Emphasis on Mount Rainier invites educators and their students to learn what scientists are discovering about Mount Rainier’s past, to explore its slopes during this period of quiescence, and to plan future responses to volcanic unrest. Mount Rainier National Park is a unique classroom, rich in resources for observing geologic change. The park staff encourages safe and knowledgeable use by educators and students and their families.
The National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program (USGS-VHP) support development and publication of this educator’s guide as part of their mission to educate the public about volcanoes. The USGS-VHP studies the dynamics of volcanoes, investigates eruption histories, develops hazard assessments, monitors volcano-related activity, and collaborates with local officials to lower the risk of disruption when volcanoes become restless.