Science & Tech

Unlocking Mount Meager‘s volcanic secrets

A team of experts went on a mission to uncover the hazards of one of Canada’s northernmost volcanoes of the Cascade Arc

Two team members traverse Mount Meager’s complex glacier terrain above the steamy lower cave entrance. (Photo: Adam Walker)
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About 150 kilometres north of Vancouver, a series of jagged peaks bounded by glaciers form the Mount Meager volcanic complex. This massif’s forbidding history includes the largest eruption in Canada in the last 10,000 years. The Lil’wat people call it Qw̓̓elqw̓̓elústen, the “cooked face place.” If it erupted now, volcanic debris flows could reach the nearby town of Pemberton, and smoke and ash could be sent across Western Canada.

And yet, we know very little about it. In 2016, large cave openings were observed on Job Glacier, billowing steam. The long-dormant volcano, it seemed, had reawakened. This “glacio-volcanic cave” is one of few known in the world. To learn more meant going into a place that no human had ever entered, with hazards we barely comprehend and have no playbook for.

Last year, a multidisciplinary team of explorers, volcanologists, planetary scientists and robotics engineers headed up Qw̓̓elqw̓̓elústen. Their goals were ambitious and wide-ranging: attempting to determine what hazards the volcano poses to the thousands of people in surrounding communities, collecting samples to discover what incredible life can exist in such an extreme environment — and testing cutting-edge technologies that might one day help us to find life on other worlds.

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This story is from the September/October 2023 Issue

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