While the general public may not be totally aware of it, British Columbia is a home to more than a few volcanoes. In fact, some of the mountains British Columbians gaze at each day are actually volcanoes; dormant and beautiful in their slumber. Located on the legendary Pacific Ring of Fire, British Columbia sits at the convergence of the Cascadia subduction zone. Measuring 1,000 kilometres in length it stretches from Vancouver Island all the way down to northern California. This subduction zone is where the Juan de Fuca and the North American plates shift, resulting in the earthquakes we feel every now and then. And of course where there is geological activity there are volcanoes. Most of the volcanoes in British Columbia last erupted during the end of the Pleistocene epoch some 10,000 years ago, with the most recent eruption taking place 250 years ago. So are we in store for another volcanic age? It’s a topic that our geologists debate.
Where are they?
While there are hundreds of volcanic fields and volcanic centres in British Columbia, there are only 18 proper volcanoes. The biggest cluster lies in the north near the coast, but others are scattered throughout the province.
Note: While technically located across the border in Washington state, Mount Baker is commonly counted among our province's volcanic peaks.
Volcanoes of Interest
While the number of volcanoes is intimidating, only a small handful have shown any signs of activity. As it stands, the majority of British Columbia's volcanic activity occurs underwater. However, some peaks have shown their power in the past and have a fascinating history.
Height: 2,012 metres
Location: 58.6°N / -131.97°W
About: Heart Peaks is the third largest mountain in the Northern Cordilleran Volcanic Province, a long volcanic chain that extends north of Prince Rupert, through the Yukon and over the Alaskan border. Heart Peaks is actually a plateau that is topped by a shield volcano that rises an additional 900 metres high. The volcano itself is composed of a basal shield capped by rhyolitic lava domes. Heart Peaks last erupted sometime during the last ice age, and it is uncertain if there have been any more recent eruptions. Today, Heart Peaks is suspected to be extinct, but still cautiously labeled as dormant.
Height: 2,190 metres
Location: 58.42°N / -131.35°W
About: Located just a few kilometres east of Heart Peaks, Level Mountain is another shield volcano. It is renowned for having the most voluminous magma capacity in the Stikine Volcanic Belt. This massive volcano spans an area of 1,800 sq. km and features 20 potential eruptive centers. The Level Mountain that visitors see today is actually a shield volcano that formed over the older Miocene shield volcano after the ice ages. Aside from its huge capacity for magma and volcanic gases, the peaks and valleys of Level Mountain are known for their wide array of resident animal species. Wildlife such as caribou, mountain goat, Dall sheep, moose and wolves all frequent this area.
Height: 2,786 metres
Location: 57.72°N / -130.63°W
About: Mount Edziza sits central in the surrounding provincial park of the same name. This volcano dates back one million years when then Cordilleran Ice Sheet, a remnant from the last ice age, retreated and left behind Edziza; Canada's second largest stratovolcano. Mount Edziza and the volcanic complex that surrounds it has experienced volcanic activity for the past 8 million years, but the last proper eruption was 1,000 years ago. Today, it is considered dormant, but is still home to active hot springs on the western flank of the volcanic plateau including the Elwyn and Taweh hot springs. In the past, the Tahltan people, who lived in the nearby Telegraph Creek area, used Mount Edziza as a source for obsidian to make their tools. As time went on, Edziza became the major source of obsidian for all of British Columbia. Today, intrepid visitors flock to Mount Edziza to hike to Eve Cone, the two-kilometre wide, ice-filled summit caldera.
Height: 2,430 metres
Location: 57.43°N / -130.68°W
About: Just to the south of Mount Edziza and still within the boundaries of Mount Edziza Provincial Park, Spectrum Range is yet another stratovolcano that makes up the Mount Edziza Volcano Complex. The range gets its name from the waves of brilliant colours created by mineral content it is composed of. This stratovolcano is actually formed from a series of basalt lava domes, pyroclastic cones and lava fields. There have been no eruptions on Spectrum Range in the past 10,000 years and though the surrounding volcano complex is considered dormant, the Spectrum Range is considered extinct.
Height: 1,850 metres
Location: 56.78°N / -131.28°W
About: Located north of the Iskut River in the Coast Mountains, Hoodoo Mountain remains one of the best examples of a subglacial volcano. Subglacial volcanoes form underneath a glacier and normally remain inaccessible. Hoodoo Mountain still retains a four-kilometre thick ice cap on its flat summit that is separated into two glaciers. There's the Hoodoo Glacier that runs down the northwest slope and the Twin Glacier that runs along the northeast slope. However, with retreating ice caps the majority of the mountain is now exposed. Studies have found that volcanic activity on Hoodoo Mountain operates on a 24,000 year cycle in which the glacial ice melts, the volcano erupts and then a glacial ice reforms again. While Hoodoo Mountain should be approaching the first stages of its next cycle, volcanic activity is thought to have waned, but is responsible for some of British Columbia's seismic activity.
Tseax River Cone
Height: 600 metres
Location: 55.12°N / -128.9°W
About: The Tseax River Cone, also known as the Aiyansh volcano, is a young cinder cone on the south end of the Northern Cordilleran Volcanic Province. Tseax is also the site of one of Canada's most recent volcanic eruptions, which produced major lava flow around 1750. The native Nisga people of the area tell of the volcano's activity, accrediting its 18th century eruption to the destruction of two villages and the death of 2,000 people from volcanic gas and poisonous smoke. For many of those that died in the eruption, the 12 metre high lava beds remain their burial ground. Today, visitors frequently tour that lava beds and the source of the eruption within the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park.
Height: 3,160 metres
Location: 51.43°N / -126.3°W
About: Silverthrone is one of the most mysterious volcanoes in British Columbia. The volcano itself, Mount Silverthrone, is one of the highest in Canada. It sits on the northern edge of the massive 30-kilometre wide Silverthrone caldera. Like most calderas, this pit was produced within a volcano that erupted so violently, the ground that comprises the volcano collapsed into a crater. However, geoscientists have little idea of when such a massive eruption happened. Although Silverthorne is dormant, it is one of the volcanoes associated with British Columbia's seismic activity. Due to the caldera's remoteness, it is difficult to access other than with a helicopter or making the difficult trek through river valleys extending from the Interior Plateau.
Bridge River Cones
Height: 2,500 metres
Location: 50.8°N / -123.4°W
About: The Bridge River Cones are a series of small cones located amidst a volcanic field. The cones sit at the very northern end of the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt. This cluster of small cinder cones surrounds Tuber Hill, a small basaltic stratovolcano that was created by retreating glaciers. The last notable eruption was thought to be 1,500 years ago, but there may have been small lava flows as early as 50 years ago. The Bridge River Cones are one of the most accessible volcanic fields in British Columbia. Visitors need only drive a small logging road between Lillooet and Goldbridge and it is just a 5 km hike to the area.
Height: 2,678 metres
Location: 49.85°N / -123°W
About: Mount Garibaldi is easily British Columbia's most famous volcano. This stratovolcano sits at the head of Howe Sound, 66 km north of Vancouver. Part of the active Cascades Range, the last volcanic activity from Mount Garibaldi occurred in its Opal Cone some 8,000 years ago. Although famous in the province, Mount Garibaldi is a relatively young volcano with its oldest activity dating back only 220,000 years ago. While still classified as dormant, Mount Garibaldi is responsible for some of the seismic activity in British Columbia. It also stands as the volcano with the biggest likelihood of becoming active due to its living magma plumbing system. In the past, Garibaldi was considered of sacred significance to the indigenous Squamish people as one of the two peaks where, according to their oral traditions, the tribe was able to find refuge after a great flood covered the land. Today, Garibaldi stands as a challenge to avid mountain climbers everywhere. Though its steep sides are treacherous with rotten lava and loose volcanic ash, the alpine glaciers on its sides provide a slightly easier climb.
Height: 2,680 metres
Location: 50.63°N / -123.5°W
About: At 93 km northeast of Whistler, Mount Meager is part of the Garibaldi volcanic belt and the northernmost member of the Cascades Range. About 2,400 years ago, Mount Meager produced the largest volcanic eruption in Canada in the past 10,000 years where an explosive eruption formed a volcanic crater on the northeastern flank of the mountain. The explosion would have sent avalanches of hot ash, rock fragments and volcanic gases barrelling north and destroying anything in its path. Although Mount Meager has shown some recent activity, the most recent danger on the mountain has been landslides caused by its seismic activity. Clusters of hot springs also surround this mountain which have been investigated as potential sources for geothermic power. The hot springs are also popular among visitors to this mountain, so much so that it can feel like a regular retreat area at times.
Height: 3,285 metres
Location: 48.77°N / -121.81°W
About: Although Mount Baker is across the border in Washington State, it is counted among British Columbia's 18 volcanoes because, as it stands, it is the biggest volcanic threat to the province. This volcano is part of the Cascade Range and hosts the second most active thermal crater after Mount St. Helens. It is also the most glaciated mountain in the Cascades which grants Mount Baker its beautiful snow-capped peak year-round. Mount Baker's last full eruption was 6,000 years ago, but it has produced dangerous pyroclastic flows in the 1800s and caused a panic in 1975 when it began to emit volcanic gases and the mountain heat increased tenfold. However, there remains no magma flow that would signal an impending eruption has been found. Regardless, due to the devastation Mount Baker would wreck on nearby large communities like Seattle and Vancouver, it still considered one of the biggest volcanic threats in both the United States and British Columbia. Like Mount Garibaldi, Mount Baker sits as a challenge to mountain climbers which it's glacial summit, sheer ice walls, and hidden crevasses providing a sizeable challenge.
Were you surprised by any of these mountains that are actually volcanoes?
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