Stephen Hamway
The Bulletin

Central Oregon is surrounded by several of the most active volcanoes in the country, and a January presentation by an Oregon State University professor could shed light on what an eruption would look like locally.

Adam Kent, professor at Oregon State University’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, is slated to speak about the specific threats posed by active volcanoes — such as Newberry Caldera and Mount Hood — at a Science Pub event on Jan. 15 at McMenamins Old St. Francis School.

Kent said his presentation, which sold out last week following a surge of ticket sales, will use each volcano’s own history, along with recent eruptions from similar volcanoes, to show what an eruption could mean for nearby Oregon communities.

“The most likely predictor for future behavior is past behavior,” Kent said Friday.

Science Pubs have been a staple in Central Oregon for nearly a decade, according to Christine Coffin, director of communications for OSU-Cascades. Coffin said each one features a researcher or professor from OSU’s Bend or Corvallis campuses to speak about a hot-button issue that ties into their research. She said the goal is to help raise awareness about a specific scientific topic while giving researchers a platform to share their work with the public.

While Science Pubs often sell out in advance, Coffin said seats for this one went more quickly than usual. After the university released a notice about the event Thursday, the remaining 50 spots sold out in an hour.

“Obviously there’s a huge interest in volcanoes and geology,” Coffin said.

Oregon has more than its share of dangerous volcanoes, and a couple cast long shadows over Central Oregon. According to a study released by the U.S. Geological Survey in October, four of the 18 most threatening volcanic systems in the United States — Mount Hood, the Three Sisters, Newberry Volcano and Crater Lake — are located in Oregon. The agency says each of the volcanoes pose a “very high threat” of a dangerous eruption.

“It’s unlikely that there will be a volcanic eruption tomorrow, but we know there will be one in the future,” Kent said.

Kent said his talk will focus primarily on eruptions at Mount Hood and Newberry. While both eruptions could hit homes and other structures in Central Oregon hard, Kent said, each volcano’s eruption would happen differently.

Mount Hood, which had its last major eruption during the late 18th century, is a stratovolcano similar to other volcanoes in the Cascade Range, including Mount St. Helens, Kent said. If Hood, Oregon’s tallest peak, were to erupt, the eruption would cause viscous lava to flow to the surface of the mountain, forming a dome, he said.

When enough lava reaches the surface, the dome will collapse, triggering fast-­moving waves of volcanic matter down the mountain. Kent added that lahars, volcanic mudslides that mix lava, snowmelt and other debris, could cascade down the mountain’s steep slopes into nearby rivers and streams. To illustrate the effects of an eruption, Kent said, he’ll show photos and videos from other stratovolcanoes like the Soufrière Hills volcano in the Caribbean.

By contrast, Newberry, an enormous shield volcano with a caldera located about 20 miles southeast of Bend, lacks the steep slopes seen in Cascade volcanoes. Kent said an eruption at Newberry would have more in common with the Kilauea eruption earlier this year, which sent lava flows across Hawaii’s Big Island.

Like the Kilauea eruption, an eruption at Newberry would begin with lava seeping through cracks in the ground, forming a cinder cone and long, slow-moving lava flows, Kent said. While lava flows can be very destructive, they mostly damage homes and other structures, and they pose comparatively little risk to humans, Kent said.

“It’s a relatively slow-moving hazard,” he said.

As with other Science Pubs, the event will feature a presentation followed by a question-and-answer session, Coffin said. The presentation will held in Father Luke’s Room at McMenamins in Bend.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818,