Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mount St. Helens 34th Anniversary

Mount St. Helens (37,000 BCE - ????)

May 18, 1980

Today, May 18th, 2014, is the 34th anniversary of the massive eruption of Mount St. Helens here in the Cascade Range of Washington.  My wife & I visited the area of the mountain on May 3rd, but the weather was not cooperative and the closest observation points were not yet open for the season. (We're just going to have to go back again soon and hope for better viewing.)

I was briefly a Geology major in college, so I probably know a little more about it than the average citizen on the street. Washington State is a fascinating area geologically.  We have the obvious in the form of volcanoes in the Cascades, but also the sublime:  The Juan de Fuca subduction zone off the coast, which someday is likely to generate an earthquake and tsunami on the scale of Indonesia (2004) or Japan (2011). We also have the flood basalts which erupted from a fissure in the Hell's Canyon area millions of years ago and left molten rock to solidify thousands of feet thick across the area.  There is also the evidence of the Missoula Floods from the last ice age, during which the flow of water exceeded all the world's rivers combined, leaving the channeled scab lands across Eastern Washington.

But today, I think of Mount St. Helens, and there are many stories I could tell you about her.

I love the romanticism of the Native legend, which tells of two sons of the Chief of the gods fighting over a maiden who could not decide between them.  Their fighting brought devastation to the land, so the Chief of the gods struck them all down; they became Mount Hood & Mount Adams, she became Mount St. Helens or Loowit, the most beautiful of the trio. That's a brief version, there are more details, but that's not the story I'm telling.

Native American Story (Wikipedia, but you can find versions of this on other sites as well.)

I could tell you the stories told by early explorers who saw her erupt in the early to mid-1800s:

European Exploration

I could tell you how modern geology explains her formation:

Ancestral Mount St. Helens

(I'm leaning on Wikipedia here, shamelessly.)

I could tell you about the eruption, about the largest landslide ever witnessed in human history that started it all, during which the north flank of the mountain collapsed and "uncorked" the volcano.

I could tell you of the 7,000+ big game animals such as deer, bear, and elk that died, or the millions of fish killed in ash-choked streams.

I could tell you of the damage, of the timber lost from the blast, over 200 homes, miles of roadway and bridges by the resultant lahars (mudflows) and the recovery efforts to clear millions of tons of volcanic ash.

But these are all readily available via Google or your favorite search engine.

Slightly harder to find are the stories of the 57 victims. There may have been more, some survivors saw others camping near them who have never been accounted for. Perhaps they made it out... perhaps they did not.

But there are 57 known victims. Only 3 were were within the exclusionary "Red Zone" and 3 more (miners) in the adjacent "Blue Zone" In the Red Zone, one was a USGS Volcanologist (David Johnston) who was making observations and measurements as scientists tried to predict what would happen.  Another was Harry R. Truman (no relation to the President of similar name) who ran a lodge on the adjacent Spirit Lake. He was 84 and refused to evacuate.  I don't recall who the third was at the moment.  The remaining 51 were in "safe" areas.  Families, couples, friends. Camping, hiking, fishing, and they all died unpleasantly. Burned, choked, suffocated, swept away or buried, some to never be found.

As I researched these facts, I learned of a family that was heading into the area as they and their kids recorded their conversations on cassette tape. The family was found. They did not survive, but their cassette did. It records typical vacation banter between kids & parents.

The saddest story had a photograph, for a picture is worth 1000 words. It was a photo, taken from the air, of a young boy who had been camping with his father and brother.  He was lying dead in the back of a pickup truck.  I have not included the photo, nor is it contained in any of these links.  It is, however, out there if you search for it. I found it by accident. You have been warned.

Day Andrew Karr's Story

Mt. St. Helens' Victims Remembered (2 pages; read them both.)

All Victims (summary)

As you can see, all of these stories are out there, from the science to the personal.  I will not re-tell them in detail.

Instead, I am going to tell you a story that has not happened, and has not been written yet. Well, that's not entirely true. You can find some references on science websites.  I'm going to show you a glimpse into Mount St. Helens' future, mostly with pictures.

First, yes, a little of the past. To acquaint you with the scale of the eruption, as well as the havoc & dramatic change Mother Nature can wreak with a simple hiccup or sneeze.

This is Mount St. Helens on May 17th, 1980. She was 9,677 ft in elevation the day
before the eruption. (Photo taken from the direction of present day Johnston Ridge observatory.)

This is taken from the same location 2 years later (May 19th, 1982).
She is now 8,365 ft in elevation, and the crater is about 1 mile wide.

This was taken sometime before the eruption, a mountain paradise. (Note the boats on Spirit Lake)
She was nicknamed "Mount Fuji of North America" after the famous symmetrical peak in Japan.

This is the same general view, looking over the timber-clogged Spirit Lake on May 19th, 1982.

Harry R. Truman's lodge is somewhere beneath this lake.  Spirit Lake no longer exists as it did prior to the eruption. It is believed that the waters of the lake were forced up against adjacent ridges by the explosion and landslide. The bottom of the lake is now higher than the surface of the old lake.

Harry and his 16 cats are somewhere down there.  Most say he would have wanted to die if he saw what became of "his" lodge, mountain, and lake.  In one video I watched, he didn't think the mountain had enough in it to kill him.  I wonder if he would have left had he known what was truly going to happen?  He was a man against a mountain, and the mountain won.  Although one of the ridges is now called "Harry's Ridge." A more fitting epitaph could not be written.

Harry Truman interview:

Another angle of before & after, Spirit Lake in the foreground.

I've shown you some selected "before" and "after" photos to illustrate the difference and the destructive power of what Mother Nature and the earth can do.  Before and after...

I don't have the exact date for this photo, but the crater is a
gaping hole, and the landscape is nearly as desolate as the moon.
It is probably between 1980 and 1982 because there is no visible lava dome.

Now let me show you AFTER the after.

Earth destroys.  Earth creates. It matters not what scars mankind places upon her. We think ourselves omnipotent, but all she has to do is burp, hiccup, or sneeze and our massive works are instantly erased.  We think in terms of years, decades, perhaps centuries, even millennia.  Earth works in Eons. We see the destruction she wrought, the death, the devastation.  But she was simply building a new mountain.

If you peek into those May 19th, 1982 photos, you'll see a "mini-mountain" in the crater.  That's called a lava dome. Like toothpaste in a tube, Earth squeezes new material to the surface. Sometimes she blasts it away and begins again. But slowly... the lava dome is building.

(Not sure of the date.)
Sep 29, 2004
Sep 12, 2006

 As you can see, the crater is slowly filling itself in again, from below.

Not unlike another place in the world. This is a map of the Kamchatka peninsula of Russia/Siberia. I draw your attention to "Bezymianny."

Like Mount St. Helens, Bezymianny is a stratovolcano formed over a subduction zone. In 1955 & 56, it erupted in a manner very much like Mount St. Helens:  A lateral explosion which took away a large mass of the mountain and left a horseshoe shaped crater.

Look familiar?

Bezymianny has been busy during the nearly 60 years since her big eruption. Perhaps more active than Mount St. Helens, perhaps more persistent, but then again, she has had almost double the time.

Bezymianny crater & lava dome

Bezymianny, side view

So, the question is, will Mount St. Helens rebuild herself?  Will Loowit replace her crown?

I think she will. She may throw the occasional tantrum and partially start over. But she will persevere. It may take 50 - 100 years... it make take centuries, millennia, or eons. Most of us will not likely see it, but someday this old girl will be a young maiden courting her princes again.

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