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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