Thirty-five years ago, mini-me watched in awe as Mount St. Helens blew up on our television. A short time later, our neighbors came back with samples of ash and awed stories of the disaster zone. Vulcanologists had gotten an unprecedented opportunity to study a volcano's eruption cycle from awakening to paroxysmal eruption, but lost some of their own in the process. Many people perished in the eruption, but without dedicated geologists informing everyone of the hazards and insisting on exclusion zones, it could have been so many more. And the many survivors' tales are utterly gripping.

For thirty-five years, we've used Mount St. Helens as a laboratory. It's taught us endless lessons on how volcanoes erupt, what those eruptions do to the countryside, and how the environment recovers afterward. We've learned a lot about the warning signs of impending eruptions. We've learned how to recognize debris avalanche and lateral blast deposits. And we've marveled at the beauty of a wounded young mountain building itself back up from the inside.

On this day, remember the geologists who gave their lives while studying this volcano.

On this day, remember those who didn't make it back home from the mountain.

And on this day, thank scientists for effective volcano monitoring.

For those who want to read further about Mount St. Helens and her cataclysmic eruption, you can follow my series here. We begin with the geologists who warned of her dangers while she was still a serene, snow-capped cone reflected in the deep blue waters of Spirit Lake. We follow her awakening, the growing bulge on her flank, and the eruption that blew her apart. We're up to the effects on the trees, and will soon be moving on to the rockier aspects of the explosion.

For those who'd like to visit, I've written a super-awesome field guide for ye.

George Wiman has an utterly neato 3D print of our favorite volcano.

Alas, I wasn't able to get a recent portrait of Mount St. Helens for this anniversary. But I can show you some of the difference 35 years makes. This photo shows the debris avalanche just after the May 18, 1980 eruption:

Image shows Mount St. Helens in the distance, its crater still smoking. In the middle of the photo, the pointed and mounded topography of the debris avalanche looks like a miniature mountain range. There is a level area with a deep set of holes left by a phreatic explosion in the foreground. Everything is gray and barren.
The hummocks and an explosion pit, September 6th, 1980. Photo courtesy Tom Casadevall/USGS.

And this is the debris avalanche today:

Image shows a view of the hummocks across one of the explosion craters. The crater is filled with trees, and grasses cover most of the hummocks.
Looking across the hummocks from the Hummocks Trail, May 15th, 2015.

How amazing is it that we get to watch this volcanic landscape go from barren debris to verdant wilderness within our lifetimes?

 

Originally published at En Tequila Es Verdad.