New at Rosetta Stones: Mount St. Helens Gets Shaken, Geologists Get Stirred

The bad news is, y’all don’t get to play extraterrestrial geologists anymore. The good news is, I could dispense with the playacting because events on the volcano have become intense. Go find out how the 1980 eruptions began.

And check out these before-and-after photos I found, but didn’t use in the Rosetta Stones post. The difference is just a bit dramatic.

Here’s the summit on March 24th:

Oblique aerial photographs of the Mount St. Helens summit area showing historic thermal areas. Distance from False Summit to summit about 600 m. Viewed from north, thermal area A, near The Boot, is covered by snow, but its location corresponds to shallow dimple in snow surface. Photo by D. Frank. Skamania County, Washington. March 24, 1980. Portion of Figure 149-A, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250. Image courtesy USGS.

And on March 27th:

Oblique aerial photograph of summit of Mount St. Helens, looking south. Location of thermal area A indicated. Note that the new fractures cross ice and rock areas with no apparent change of style, indicating the fractures are deep seated. Photo by D. Frank. Skamania County, Washington. March 27, 1980. Portion of Figure 150, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250. Image courtesy USGS.

Intense, amirite?

New at Rosetta Stones: Mount St. Helens Gets Shaken, Geologists Get Stirred
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4 thoughts on “New at Rosetta Stones: Mount St. Helens Gets Shaken, Geologists Get Stirred

  1. 1

    Gaaahhhh! You’re leaving me hanging onto the edge of my seat, my jaw in my lap! Aarrgghh!

    I got to visit the Mt. St. Helens surrounds in ’82. The misshapen mountain snoozed in the background, a silent threat over our shoulders. The trees still lay like matchsticks for miles around, not a bit of living vegetation in sight. One house left standing had been filled almost to the ceiling with mudflows, its refrigerator floating to the top before the mud solidified. The whole area made the hairs on my neck stand up. I could almost imagine rumbling threats – “See what power I have. Fear me. Scurry away before I awake again.” It was a visit I’ll never forget.

    Now I live in a hurricane-prone area, and I try never to underestimate mother nature’s power.

    I hope that after you finish this series you have another in mind. This is riveting! Keep up the good work.

  2. 2

    I was there a couple of years ago…same thing.

    A forestry company has planted a lot of trees just outside the park area…but the park area itself is still pretty barren.

    We are so not in charge.

  3. 3

    Here’s my comment on Scientific American:

    I don’t remember if “long period” earthquakes were being associated with magma movement back in 1980. Did anyone ever go back and sort out when the first earthquakes indicating magma movement actually began? Your article suggests that what were originally though to be “volcanic” earthquakes were actually glacial response to earth movement. Not that I’m completely sure of what I’m writing here… my understanding is completely based on general-public writing, and I’m not sure I’d know what a “long-period” quake would look like on a seismogram if it bit me.

    I know there are geobloggers who read this site, who can enlighten me (and perhaps correct me) on this subject.

  4. 4

    Dana – Great article!! Have you ever read the book, “Volcano Cowboys”? Gripping stuff some of it, esp. the part on Pinatubo. My Dad was pretty frustrated with some of the drama the author invented between the Hawaiian volcanologists and the Cascade volcanologists for the part on Mount St. Helens. But, it’s still really good reading.

    You’ve got me digging for interesting stuff about my Dad and St. Helens. I came across a letter he wrote right after the big eruption. He wrote it to friends and relatives in “lay language” to explain what was going on and what he had been doing.

    Dwight “Rocky” Crandell wrote on June 5, 1980:

    Dear ___________,
    The first two pages were written while I was home (in Denver) on a break, which ended with a telephone call Sunday morning, May 18, letting me know that a major eruption was in progress. So I packed up and was out there by 5:30 that afternoon. Although we knew that there had been a big explosion, followed by floods and mudflows down the valleys, we didn’t learn any details until the next day when our geologists went in by helicopter. Then they found that an explosive blast from the north side of the volcano had totally devasted a forested area of more than 150 miles. The sideways blast to the north was accompanied by a column of ash that rose above the volcano to a height of 15 miles. Winds then carried the ash into eastern Washington where much of it fell to the ground and is causing many problems. The high-level ash went on to the east and southeast across the country, and probably is over Asia by now.
    When I got to Vancouver my time was spent giving advice to various govenmental agencies concerning the mudflows, floods, and ash. At noon on Wendesday, May 21, I learned that I had been asked by the White House to brief the President at 7 that evening, as soon as he arrived in Vancouver. Nervous? Who, me? Actually, the briefing went very well, and Carter asked me some good questions. He told me that he had read our report on St. Helens (published in 1978) on the way out, so he felt he had some background. We next went into a large conference room, where I repeated some of the highlights of the eruption to a bunch of senators, representatives, local officials and news media. Then President Carter spoke briefly and repeated some of the information I had given him. I was impressed by him. He grasps concepts very quickly and seems to be able to remember everything he hears and reads.
    The next day, Carter, his entourage, and yours truly went up to view the devasted area at St. Helens via Marine helicopter. I didn’t get to ride with the president, but had Secretary of the Interior Andrus (who is my boss), Secy of Agriculture Bergland, Secy of the Army Alexander, and some other high level officials in my helicopter. After coming back from the volcano we stopped in Longview so Carter could visit an evacuation center in a high school gym, then back to Portland. For me, back to the grind.
    During the next week I spent a 3-hour sessions with Governor Ray of Washington, met with groups of Federal and State officials and gave talks to 4 different communities about what is going on at the volcano, what the prospects are for the future and how they might be affected. The largest such group was between 1200 and 1500. These were always in the evening, so I would finish out the day pretty exhausted. Some of you may have seen me on national TV (CBS or NBC) at one of these meetings or at a press conference. Now I am back in Denver for 3 weeks of rest before going out again (but I’ll go back immediately if there is another major eruption). The person who replaced me, Don Mullineaux, called today from Vancouver to tell me that a letter from the White House addressed to me had arrived. It turned out to be a personal thank you note from Jimmy Carter. That will make a nice souvenir.
    Even though 50-odd people were killed by the eruption of May 18, it could have been far worse. The Forest Service was planning to open the area north of the volcano for day use, but when they asked my opinion, I said that the potential danger was too great. So the area was kept clear of people, except for those who went in by back country logging roads to avoid the road blocks on the main highway. So we can take some comfort in knowing that if it had not been for our warnings and the road blocks, many more people almost certainly would have been killed.
    Love, Rocky

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