MOUNT ST. HELENS, Wash. – Earthquake activity has increased at Mount St. Helens (search), but scientists said Saturday there was no reason to raise the volcano's alert level. Scientists said earthquake activity had been low until Friday, indicating molten rock was moving upward with little resistance. By Saturday, however, quakes of magnitude 2.4 were occurring every one to two minutes, they said.
A bubble on the south side of the dome has also risen to at least 330 feet since scientists first spotted it on Sept. 30 and is now almost as tall as the dome's 1,000-foot summit, said USGS (news - web sites) geologist John Pallister.
"The blister is a rather remarkable event," he said, saying that it infers magma is less than a mile below the surface.
Scientists will monitor the bulge to see how its movement relates to the seismic activity, Pallister said.
Scientists have said earthquake activity is expected to ebb and flow, and the most likely scenario now is weeks or months of occasional steam blasts and possibly some eruptions of fresh volcanic rock. In order to raise the alert level, scientists said an eruption would have to be imminent or occurring.
Thousands of small earthquakes shook the peak as the 8,364-foot volcano in southwest Washington spewed clouds of steam and small amounts of volcanic ash each day from Oct. 1 to Oct. 5, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people.
An hour-long blast on Oct. 5 sent a thick cloud thousands of feet into the air.
Seismic activity diminished afterward. On Wednesday, scientists lowered the alert level from "volcano alert" to "volcano advisory," saying earthquake activity that could endanger lives was down to the lowest level since Oct. 2.
There was no indication Saturday that a dangerous eruption was imminent, said Larry Mastin, a USGS expert on the physics of volcano eruptions.
Cloudy weather on Saturday hampered visibility for scientists hoping to monitor developments.
Closures around the volcano — including the Johnston Ridge observatory five miles north of the crater — remained in effect. Johnston Ridge is usually closed for the winter by the end of October.
Geologists have said there is little chance of anything similar to the blast on May 18, 1980, that blew 1,300 feet off the top of the peak, killed 57 people and covered much of the inland Pacific Northwest with gritty volcanic ash.