The Red Waterfall at the Scene of a Volcanic Disaster

I was going to save this photo for when I’d had time to go back through my recording of the ranger talk and recall what it was the ranger said about it – iron staining? Bacteria? They don’t know? But some of you wanted a larger image of Mount St. Helens’s lovely red waterfall, and so a larger image you shall have right now. Because I love you:

Image is a close view of the red-stained streak left by a waterfall that plunges down a bare ridge within the blast zone at Mount St. Helens.
Red Waterfall at Mount St. Helens

And because I love you very, very much, thee shall have an image of the red waterfall with Mount Adams peeking over it.

A photo from a different angle shows the red waterfall, with the snow-covered summit of Mount Adams behind it.
Mount Adams peeks over the ridge where the red waterfall is.

Eventually, I’ll have a whole big missive about that red waterfall prepared for you. Eventually.

The Red Waterfall at the Scene of a Volcanic Disaster
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11 thoughts on “The Red Waterfall at the Scene of a Volcanic Disaster

  1. rq

    “Eventually”???? What kind of a promise is that?? We wants NOW!
    The pretty pictures will do. For a short while.
    Until you post about it, though, I’m going to guess that the redness is caused by a mysterious, iron-eating bacteria of unknown origin. Ha! That covers all of your listed possibilities.

    Anyway, disregarding my demands for more from you, I hope you’re doing otherwise well and aren’t under any undue stress. :)

  2. rq

    Also, judging from the wider-angled picture (the one with Mr Mt. Adams), there would be more red-coloured waterfalls if there were more channels for water to flow. It seems that outcrop is generally coloured red, underneath the surface accumulation of detritus and shrubs.

  3. 3

    Thank you. Thank you! THANK YOU!!

    It looks a bit like something you’d see in Yellowstone, where you can (if you know how) tell the temperature of the hot spring water by the color of the bacteria in it. If the water is warm, I’m gonna say bacteria. If it’s cold, iron.

    I wonder if it shows in Google Earth. I’d like to know if there’s a stream there, or just a spring.

  4. 5

    To my considerable surprise, I DID find the red waterfall in Google Earth, at this location:

    46°16’49.32″ N 122°10’59.18″ W

    The picture with Mt. Adams was very helpful after I arranged for an eye-level view from Johnstone Ridge.

    There’s a stream above the fall for at least a short ways, with red visible in the stream bed. Still could be coming from a hot/warm spring. Or a source of iron. Could there be a man-made source of iron, such as a truck, embedded in the debris? Doubt it, though.

    Googling got me nothing for red waterfalls at MSH except for Dana’s posts. Perhaps we should name it after her. Hunter falls?

  5. 7

    I want to thank you for the series on Mt. St. Helens. It has been fascinating and I have learned much (being very nearly a geology illiterate). I started reading your series in the middle around part 3 or 4. Intrigued, I went back and read the earlier parts and have been hooked since.

    My own experience with Mt. St. Helens…

    I was in the Air Force at the time, stationed in Idaho. However, I had just started a month’s leave and was back home in Oklahoma when the mountain blew its top (or rather side). All through my leave I kept getting questions about what it was like to be relatively close to the eruption and had to point out I was no where near it.

    Our airbase did have one interesting story (at least IMHO) about the eruption. One of our F-111s was flying near the mountain when the eruption occurred. The jet engines sucked in quite a bit of ash, but fortunately were not FODed out by the debris. They did require a major overhaul though. The plexiglass windscreen didn’t fare so well. It was abraded to the point of opacity. The plane had to return to base strictly on instruments. It was talked down to a safe landing by the tower and two other F-111s flying off its wings.

    (BTW…FOD: Foreign Object Damage. With jet engines, that usually means destroyed since turbine blades are rather delicate since they are thin and moving at very high speeds.)

  6. rq

    I called it! I called it! :D But it would be a strange sort of dispersal for iron bacteria, because I would expect it to live only in the water and colour it reddish – but as has been noted, the surrounding rocks are also coloured red, in places where I wouldn’t particularly expect the bacteria to be active (perhaps lichen, though). Anyway, there may be iron bacteria in the water that makes it even more reddish, though. I’m hoping Dana will enlighten us soon!

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