Koma Kulshan (Mt. Baker), a Natural Field Laboratory

What lies beneath Koma Kulshan volcano (Mt. Baker) and what are the triggers for eruption?

Koma Kulshan in background with white flowers in foreground

A new National Science Foundation grant to Dr. Susan DeBari and two other Washington State volcanologists is supporting students and faculty to take a deeper dive into the inner workings of Koma Kulshan volcano (Mt. Baker) in northern Washington State. The team includes Drs. Susan DeBari and Kristina Walowski from Western Washington University and Dr. Hannah Shamloo from Central Washington University, as well as six graduate students and four undergraduates from both institutions.

The goal of the project is to use Koma Kulshan as a natural field laboratory to address fundamental questions in volcano science related to how and when volcanoes erupt. The team will use the chemistry and mineralogy of previously erupted material to do their work, with the end goal of creating a detailed vertical view of the magma system that lies under the volcano. From this they aim to tell a story about what processes trigger eruptions at this volcano and how long those processes take. Currently six MS graduate students and four undergraduates are involved in the project, and the first large-group field season took place in August 2022.

The United States has several volcanically active regions that contain “very-high-threat” volcanoes, including Koma Kulshan. While situated in a highly populated area, Koma Kulshan remains relatively understudied. This proposal investigates the processes that lead to eruptions at Koma Kulshan and the associated timescales, to better inform a response to, and aid in, hazard mitigation plans in the event of a future eruption.

This work will also provide place-based learning opportunities for students from marginalized groups in STEM through the Summer Koma Kulshan Field Experience, a week-long summer field experience for pre-majors from Washington State institutions including Northwest Indian College, Whatcom Community College, and Yakima Valley College. Additionally, three PIs with complimentary scientific expertise and diverse identities at different career stages will lead this collaborative project and will provide a framework for multi-tiered research mentoring across peer institutions in the state of Washington for undergraduates and graduate students.