MAY 22, 2020 3:29 PM PDT

Mount St. Helens: 40 Years of Recovery

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption in southwestern Washington. According to NASA, small earthquakes beginning in mid-March marked the beginning of what would become the deadliest eruption in United States' history. Fifty-seven people lost their lives. NASA notes that this was not the mountain's largest or longest-lasting eruption, but the first to occur (in the continental U.S.) during the era of modern scientific observation.

NASA reports that on May 18th, the eruption peaked as an earthquake caused the collapse of the mountain's northern flank. The collapse resulted in the most massive landslide in recorded history, burying the North Fork Toutle River for 23 kilometers and up to 180 meters deep in some places. The subsequent explosion blasted rocks, gas, and steam over 600 square kilometers. Additionally, as reported by NASA, the explosion decimated more than 4 billion board-feet of timber. The eruption melted remaining snow and ice, releasing devastating lahars. In just four minutes, the blast cloud reached 30 kilometers in altitude. USGS reports that the ash cloud reached the central U.S. by May 19th, and some traveled around the globe within two weeks.

The recovery of the surrounding landscape would be long and challenging. Fortunately, The Landsat Program from NASA and USGS has been using satellites to acquire images of the volcano before this significant eruption event. This allows scientists to know what the area looked like before the event and track recovery since 1980. NASA considers this an "unprecedented opportunity to witness the intricate steps through which life reclaims a devastated landscape."

According to NASA, the first noticeable recovery occurred in the late 1980s, in the northwestern quadrant farthest from the volcano. Landsat images show green vegetation returning to the region and getting closer to the mountain by the late 1990s. The most recent article from NASA regarding the eruption states that changes are slow and are now appearing less dramatic in annual images as recovery continues. Steve Self, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, stated, "I think these long-time series will be useful for decades to come, possibly out to a century after the eruption, as change is very slow."

Sources: NASA, NASA (2), USGS

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
You May Also Like
MAR 21, 2020
Earth & The Environment
MAR 21, 2020
Polluted sea ice will harm Arctic countries
New research published in the American Geophysical Union journal Earth’s Future warns that Arctic communities are ...
MAR 25, 2020
Technology
MAR 25, 2020
What is eDNA?
What exactly is eDNA? It is environmental DNA that has underwent the next-generation sequencing and that has been &lsquo ...
APR 13, 2020
Plants & Animals
APR 13, 2020
Lion Cubs' Curiosity Sometimes Leads Them Right Into Danger
Most people have probably heard the popular idiom ‘the curiosity killed the cat’ at some point in their live ...
MAY 07, 2020
Earth & The Environment
MAY 07, 2020
How will Climate Change Impact Arctic Shore Ice?
Many research projects have examined climate change’s impact on sea ice and glaciers. However, shorefast ice, whic ...
MAY 08, 2020
Earth & The Environment
MAY 08, 2020
Lichen goldmine found in Alaska fjords
Did you hear the story of a fungus meeting algae, and they took a lichen to each other? Well, apparently it’s a pr ...
MAY 14, 2020
Earth & The Environment
MAY 14, 2020
NASA's ICESat-2 Mission Reports Changes in Arctic Ice Thickness
Arctic sea ice is vital to Earth's climate system, and recent decades have seen troubling declines in sea ice due to ...
Loading Comments...