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Let’s Do the Time Warp Again: Newly Discovered Images of Mount St. Helens Pre-Eruption Will Leave You Stunned

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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The universe is a funny ol’ place sometimes. You’d think a photographer would develop a roll of film shot while flying around an actively erupting volcano, but Reid Blackburn put this one aside. Perhaps he thought he’d get to it later, and then forgot in all the excitement. Besides, he had other great images from that day. So that roll of Mount St. Helens film remained undeveloped.

He might have thought of it after the cataclysmic eruption of May 18th, mere weeks later. Fresh images of the volcano pre-decapitation would have come in useful. But he died that day. What was thought to be his only roll of undeveloped film perished with him, too damaged by the incredible heat of the blast cloud to yield its images.

And when his desk was carefully packed up and his work for the Columbian neatly stored away, no one noticed another, quite intact roll.

Over thirty years, it sat silently in storage, until someone looking for something else chanced upon it, and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if….?” And a developer of old black-and-white film was found, and images of a waking volcano, shot by the man who would not survive her paroxysmal fury, appeared.

A strip from the contact sheet of Reid's last roll, showing Mount St. Helens in eruption, with one haunting image of her (mostly) intact cone. Click the photo to be taken to the Columbian's website to view the full image and story. Image courtesy Reid Blackburn / the Columbian

A strip from the contact sheet of Reid's last roll, showing Mount St. Helens in eruption, with one haunting image of her (mostly) intact cone. Click the photo to be taken to the Columbian's website to view the full image and story. Image courtesy Reid Blackburn / the Columbian

And we have just a little bit more of Reid Blackburn’s amazing work on that mountain.

And just a little bit more of his legacy lives on.

With thanks to Trebuchet, Oenotrian and wxsby, who all let me know about this awesome discovery. Thank you, my darlings!

Dana Hunter About the Author: Dana Hunter is a science blogger, SF writer, and geology addict whose home away from SciAm is En Tequila Es Verdad. Follow her on Twitter: @dhunterauthor. Follow on Twitter @dhunterauthor.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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