Possible Eruption Near Salton Sea In Imperial Valley Could Bring Ash Clouds To San Diego
Comments from the U.S. Geological Survey are sparking questions about a potential volcanic eruption in Imperial Valley that could bring clouds of ash to San Diego County.
"Most definitely Volcanic activity is possible," said geologist Pat Abbott.
Abbott was part of a research group that collected footage of muddy pits and volcanic gasses about 100 miles east on the southern end of the Salton Sea. The area is the home of four buttes that are several hundred feet tall.
The buttes are small volcanoes with an explosive past. Miles below them is a pool of magma that is 15 miles wide. About 8,000 years ago, the buttes erupted, causing magma to flow which cooled into obsidian rock.
The damage from those eruptions was limited to the surrounding area, but if a major earthquake hit along the San Andreas Fault, geologists said there could be trouble.
"It really pumps energy into a freshly enlarged magma body," said Abbot. "That would be a worst-case scenario."
Unstable magma may find a path to the surface, which would result in the buttes erupting, oozing lava and spewing ash.
Though ash clouds like those seen in Iceland last year is a remote possibility, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey recently said in an article from the Palm Springs Desert Sun that "I would not anticipate an Iceland eruption, but we didn't anticipate Mount St. Helens either."
Even if an ash cloud is small, it could still wreak havoc and alter flight plans.
"The way the ash gets to San Diego is if we have Santa Ana winds," said Abbott.
Abbot said it is an unlikely scenario but one that is lurking beneath the surface.
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September 11, 2012 – CALIFORNIA – When the rotten egg smell wafted into the Santa Clarita United Methodist Church in Saugus on Monday morning, Kathy Gray thought the church’s sewer pipe had burst. More than 70 miles to the east, steelworker Chris Tatum’s nostrils got the punch in Riverside. He assumed a brush fire had just broken out. “It smells like rotten mush.” Southern California awoke Monday morning to a foul odor that wouldn’t go away. Residents clogged 911 lines with calls, prompting health officials from Ventura County to Palm Springs to send investigators looking for everything from a toxic spill to a sewer plant leak. The prime suspect, however, lay more than 100 miles away from Los Angeles. The leading theory is that the stink was caused by the annual die-off of fish in the Salton Sea.
Officials believe Sunday evening’s thunderstorms and strong winds churned up the water and pushed that dead-fish smell to points west overnight. Officials from the Air Quality Management District and other agencies said they have never dealt with a stench quite like this. Although the fish die-off usually causes foul odors in parts of the Inland Empire, officials cannot recall it traveling this far. “It’s very unusual that any odor would be this widespread, from the Coachella to Los Angeles County,” said Sam Atwood, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. “We’re talking well over 100 miles. I can’t recall ever confirming an odor traveling that distance.” The Salton Sea did track 40-mph winds Sunday night, and officials said that probably served as a trigger. “The winds could have stirred up the water,” said Bill Meister, president of the Sea and Desert Interpretive Assn. “Because the lake is so shallow, and there is 100 years worth of decayed material at the bottom, you’d get that rotten egg smell.” At its deepest points, the Salton Sea is only about 50 feet, said Andrew Schlange, general manager of the Salton Sea Authority.
The 360-square-mile body of murky, highly saline water is also receding into the desert. More water is evaporating from the sea than is flowing in from agricultural runoff. In some places the falling waterline has uncovered thermal fields studded with features like geysers and boiling mud pots spewing clouds of steam and sulfur dioxide gas that smells like rotten eggs. The “accidental sea” was created in 1905 when the Colorado River jumped its banks during a rainy season and gushed north for months, filling an ancient salt sink. It’s 35 miles long, 15 miles wide and 227 feet below sea level. Schlange said it’s a common occurrence for fish populations to explode and then suffer die-offs when oxygen is depleted from the sea. “The problem is [the odor] would have to have migrated 50 to 100 miles, without it being dissipated by mixing with other air. It doesn’t seem possible,” he said. “I’ve been in Southern California my whole life, and I’m not aware of any time in the past where the odor from the Salton Sea has migrated as far as people are telling us.”