Scientists are headed tomorrow to an area 75 kilometres west of Quesnel to install seismological equipment aimed at determining whether a "swarm" of small earthquakes are evidence of a forthcoming burst of molten lava -- potentially the first volcanic activity in the province in two centuries.

"It's pretty exciting to see this," John Cassidy, earthquake seismologist with Natural Resources Canada, confirmed in an interview. "The earthquakes are continuing, even today. We should have some answers soon."

The story began last Wednesday when existing seismological equipment located, appropriately enough, at Thunder Mountain began recording earthquake activity.

Since then, there have been more than 100 small earthquakes -- most of them magnitude 1.0 or less on the Richter scale, but as big as 3.1 -- including an average of one per hour over the past 24 hours.

The activity is located 20 kilometers west of Nazko Cone, which last erupted 7,200 years ago and is currently being mined for scoria, used for light-weight aggregate, landscaping and ground cover, and in agricultural and horticultural applications as a soil additive.

The new seismic equipment is expected to be installed as early as Tuesday right on top of the earthquake activity, allowing scientists to better determine the depth and direction of the activity.

Upward movement could be evidence the lava is working its way to the surface, causing small earthquakes as it muscles its way through the earth's rocks.

"That's one option," Cassidy said. "We don't know if it's caused by magma at depth or if it's tectonic -- just an earthquake in an unusual area, because we haven't seen earthquakes here before.

"It may turn out to be a little swarm of earthquakes in an unusual spot, but it may turn out to the be reawakening of a volcano, which is really exciting."

Even if lava is on its way, it could be take weeks or months to reach the surface, Cassidy said, noting it took Mount St. Helens in Washington about two months to finally blow its top in 1980.