Você está na página 1de 10

Chapter4

Mt.St.Helens:ACaseStudy

fromPerilousEarth:UnderstandingProcessesBehindNaturalDisasters,ver.1.0,June,2009
byG.H.Girty,DepartmentofGeologicalSciences,SanDiegoStateUniversity

Page1

Introduction

Mt. St. Helens is part of the Cascades volcanic arc, a continentalmargin island arc
system extending from Lassen Peak in northern California through Oregon and Washington
before terminating in southwestern Canada where Mount Meager represents the
northernmost volcano within the arc system (Figure 1). Stratovolcanoes within the Cascades
arcaretheresultofthesubductionoftheJuandeFucamicroplatebeneaththeNorthAmerica
platealongtheCascadiasubductionzone(Figure2).TheyincludeLassenPeakandMt.Shasta
innorthernCalifornia,CraterLakeandMt.HoodinOregon,andMt.St.Helens,Mt.Rainier,and
Mt.BakerinWashington.
TheCascadesvolcanicarcformsasmallsegmentofthePacificRimofFire,andoccurs
within in aregion with a human population in excess of 10 million. Most of the presentday
volcanoeswithinthearcaregenerallylessthan2millionyearsold.Mt.Lasseneruptedin1912
and 1920, but the most recent eruption within the arc was at Mt. St. Helens in 1980. Lets
reviewtheeventsthatleaduptotheVEI6eruptionofMt.St.HelensonMay18,1980using

Figure1.GeneralizedmapshowingmajortectonicelementsoftheNWUnitedStatesandthe
locationofFigure2.

fromPerilousEarth:UnderstandingProcessesBehindNaturalDisasters,ver.1.0,June,2009
byG.H.Girty,DepartmentofGeologicalSciences,SanDiegoStateUniversity

Page2

Figure2.CrosssectionshowingthepositionofMt.St.HelensabovethesubductingJuande
Fucamicroplate.

the timeline outlined by R.I. Tilling, L. Topinka, and D.A. Swanson of the United States
GeologicalSurvey.Perhapsfromsuchareviewwemightlearnsomethingabouthowtheother
nowsleepinganddormantvolcanoeslyingwithintheCascadesvolcanicarcmightbehaveprior
toaneruption.

TheTimelineofMt.St.HelensEruption

PriortotheMay18,1980eruption,Mt.St.Helensformedarelativelycalmandclassical
lookingsnowandglaciercappedstratovolcanicedificeinsouthwesternWashington(Figure3).

Figure3.Mt.St.Helens,May17,1980.Thefollowingdaythevolcanoerupted.USGS
photographbyHarryGlicken.InsetisanEarthExplorer5.0DEMshowingthelocationofMt.St.
HelensinSWWashington.

fromPerilousEarth:UnderstandingProcessesBehindNaturalDisasters,ver.1.0,June,2009
byG.H.Girty,DepartmentofGeologicalSciences,SanDiegoStateUniversity

Page3

Itsrelativelysteeplittleerodedslopesmergedsymmetricallyupwardencirclingacentralvent
area.
ThevisibleconeshapeofMt.St.Helenshadformedinthelast~2,200yearsmakingit
one of the youngest in the Cascades volcanic arc. Though concerned geologist such as D.R.
Crandell, D.R. Mullineaux, and M. Rubin as early as 1975 and 1978 recognized the potential
dangerofMt.St.Helens,aslateasMay17,nooneexpectedanimminenteruption.

Beginning about March 16, 1980 and continuing until about March 26 significant
earthquakeactivity,thatisashakingandvibrationofthelandsurface,wasrecordedatMt.St.
Helens.Richterearthquakemagnitudesvariedfromabout2.6to4.2.BetweenMarch26and
March27over174earthquakeswithmagnitudesgreaterthan2.6wererecorded.

On March 27 at 12:36 PST Mt. St. Helens began to spew steam and ash into the
atmosphere.Theeruptioncolumnrosetoabout829meters(~6000feet).An~76meter(~250
feet)widecraterformedasaresultoftheinitialeruption.Inaddition,noticeablenewcracks
formedacrossthesummit.
The observed March 27 eruption of steam and ash, and others that followed in the
comingdays,werelikelyproducedbyhotintrudingmagmaencounteringgroundwater,which
thenexplosivelyflashedtogenerateandsustaintheobservedsteamblasteruptions.

The activity that began on March 27 continued intermittently through April 21 with
explosiveburstsofsteamandashlastingfromafewsecondstotensofminutes.Duringthis
activityasecondcraterformedandthenmergedwiththefirst.

Earthquakes and intermittent volcanic activity continued at Mt. St. Helens, and on
March 31 volcanic tremors were recorded on seismographs. Volcanic tremors are different
fromthedistinctrelativeshortjoltscharacteristicofearthquakes,astheyarerepresentedbya
morecontinuousrhythmicgroundshaking.AtMt.St.Helens,theywereinterpretedtosignify
themovementofmagmaorgasesbeneaththevolcano.

Eruptive activity ceased in late April and early May, but resumed on May 7 and then
continuedintermittentlythroughMay16.About10,000earthquakeswererecordedthrough
midMaywiththegreatestconcentrationofactivityoccurringinasmallarealessthan~2.57km
(~1.6 miles) directly beneath a bulge on the north flank of the volcano. Such intense seismic
activity and the visible swelling and cracking of the volcano signified that magma was being
forcedintothesubvolcanicmagmachamber,and,asresult,thebulgenearthesummitofthe
volcano was more than ~137 meters (~450 feet) higher than it was in the summer of 1979.
Laserbeammeasurementsindicatedthatthebulgewasgrowingpredominantlyhorizontallyin
a northward direction at a rate of ~1.5 meters/day (~5 feet/day). As the bulge moved
northward,thesummitareainbackofit(tothesouth)sank,formingagraben(Figure4A).

OnSunday,May18,1980,Mt.St.Helensexplosivelyanddramaticallyeruptedatabout
8:32amPDT.AsillustratedinthefollowingdescriptionofthiseventbyR.I.Tilling,L.Topinka,
andD.A.Swanson,theeruptioncameunexpectedly.

May18,aSunday,dawnedbrightandclear.At7a.m.PacificDaylightTime(PDT),
USGS volcanologist David A. Johnston, who had Saturdaynight duty at an
observationpostabout6milesnorthofthevolcano,radioedintheresultsofsome
laserbeam measurements he had made moments earlier that morning. Even
fromPerilousEarth:UnderstandingProcessesBehindNaturalDisasters,ver.1.0,June,2009
byG.H.Girty,DepartmentofGeologicalSciences,SanDiegoStateUniversity

Page4

considering these measurements, the status of Mount St. Helens' activity that day
showed no change from the pattern of the preceding month. Volcanomonitoring
dataseismic, rate of bulge movement, sulfurdioxide gas emission, and ground
temperaturerevealed no unusual changes that could be taken as warning signals
for the catastrophe that would strike about an hour and a half later. About 20
secondsafter8:32a.m.PDT,apparentlyinresponsetoamagnitude5.1earthquake
about 1 mile beneath the volcano, the bulged, unstable north flank of Mount St.
Helenssuddenlybegantocollapse,triggeringarapidandtragictrainofeventsthat
resultedinwidespreaddevastationandthelossof57people,includingvolcanologist
Johnston.

ShowninFigure4areaseriesofcrosssectionsdepictingthecollapseofthenorthflankof
Mt. St. Helens. This collapse produced the largest landslidedebris avalanche recorded in
historictime.Duringthecollapsefirstoneblockbegantomove,andthenanother,andthen
another(Figure4B).Thisseriesofmovingblocksthenmergeddownslopeintoasinglegigantic

Figure4.Seriesofschematicillustrationsshowingdevelopmentofdebrisavalancheduring
earlystageofdevelopmentofMay18,1980eruptionatMt.StHelens.ModifiedafterTillinget
al.(1993).

fromPerilousEarth:UnderstandingProcessesBehindNaturalDisasters,ver.1.0,June,2009
byG.H.Girty,DepartmentofGeologicalSciences,SanDiegoStateUniversity

Page5

debris avalanche that traveled at speeds of 177 to 249 kilometers/ hour (110 to 155
miles/hour). At one point in its downward movement it retained sufficient momentum to
travel up and over a ridge ~350 meters high (1150 feet). Over all, the debris avalanche
advancedmorethan~20.9kilometers(13miles)downtheNorthForkoftheToutleRiverfilling
thevalleytoanaveragedepthofabout~45.7meters(~150feet)(Figure5).Thetotalvolume
oftheresultingdepositisestimatedtobeabout2.9cubickilometers(~0.7cubicmiles).

The unloading of the summit of the volcano by the debris avalanche triggered the
expansion of high temperaturehigh pressure steam trapped in the cracks and voids in the
volcano and the vesiculation of gases dissolved in the dacitic magma that had created the
northward bulge noted earlier. The end result was a northwarddirected lateral blast that
formed a pyroclastic flow composed of rock, ash, and hot gases. The movement of the
pyroclasticflowdevastatedafanshapedsector,597.7squarekilometersinarea(~230square
miles) north of the volcano, while to the south the affected area was only near the summit
(Figure 5). Though the lateral blast occurred only seconds after the debris avalanche (Figure
4B), the resulting pyroclastic flow traveled at such a high velocity that it overtook the debris
avalanche.Thepyroclasticflowisestimatedtohavetraveledinitiallyat~354kilometers/hour
(~220mile/hour),butthisspeedquicklyincreasedto~1078kilometers/hour(~670mph).The
blastwasheardinpartsofBritishColumbia,Montana,Idaho,andnorthernCalifornia.
The movement of the pyroclastic flow produced by the lateral blast caused widespread
devastationasfaras~30.6kilometers(~19miles)fromthevolcano.Theareaaffectedcanbe
subdivided into three roughly concentric areas referred to as the direct blast, channelized
blast,andsearedzones(Figure5).Withinthedirectblastzonevirtuallyeverythingwas

Figure5.Mapshowingthespatialdistributionofthedirectblast,channelizedblast,andseared
zonesderivedfromtheMay18,1980eruptionatMt.St.Helens.ModifiedafterTillingetal.
(1993).

fromPerilousEarth:UnderstandingProcessesBehindNaturalDisasters,ver.1.0,June,2009
byG.H.Girty,DepartmentofGeologicalSciences,SanDiegoStateUniversity

Page6

obliteratedorcarriedawaybythepyroclasticflow.Thepyroclasticflowwithinthechannelized
blast zone flattened everything that it encountered. For example, large trees were toppled,
brokenoffatthebaseoftheirtrunks.Theoutermostzoneaffectedbythepyroclasticflowis
thesearedzone(Figure5).Inthiszone,treesremainedstanding,butweresingedbrownbythe
hotgasesfromtheblast.
Shortlyafterthelateralblast,averticalcolumnofashandsteamrosefromthesummit
of the volcano (Figure 4D). In less than 10 minutes, the eruption column had rose ~19.3
kilometers(~12miles)intotheatmosphereandhadbeguntospreadouttoformtheclassical
mushroom shapeoftheumbrellaregion.Nearthevolcanovegetationandforestswereset
afire by lightening generated within the swirling cloud of ash. During this time, parts of the
mushroomshapederuptioncolumncollapsed,sendingadditionalpyroclasticflowsspeeding

Figure6.AdramaticandsurrealisticimageofMt.St.Helens,May18,1980.Photographfrom
USGeologicalSurvey(http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/monitor/studies.html)

down the flanks of Mt. St. Helens. As the eruption continued, the high part of the eruption
column (the umbrella region) was blown by the prevailing winds and drifted to the east
northeast(Figure6).Theashcloudtraveledatabout96.6kilometersperhour(~60milesper
hour) and was dense enough to block out nearly all sun light in Yakima and Spokane,
Washington.
Duringthe9hoursofvigorouseruptionactivity,anextensiveashfalldepositcomposed
of about 540 million tons of ash was produced. It covered an area of about 56,980 square
kilometers(~22,000squaremiles).However,bylateafternoononMay18theeruptivecolumn
hadsubsided,andbyMay19theeruptionhadceased.Bythistime,theashcloudhadreached
the central United States and several days later, though now very diffuse, it was detected in
distantpartsoftheNEUnitedStates.Afterabout2weekssomeoftheashhaddriftedaround
theglobe.
The eruption of so much ash enlarged the depression at the summit that had formed
from the initial debris avalanche and lateral blast. Today it forms an amphitheatershaped
craterthatopenstothenorth(Figure7).TheeruptiononMay18loweredthehighestpointon
thesummitofMt.St.Helensbyabout400meters(1,313feet).
fromPerilousEarth:UnderstandingProcessesBehindNaturalDisasters,ver.1.0,June,2009
byG.H.Girty,DepartmentofGeologicalSciences,SanDiegoStateUniversity

Page7

Figure7.EarthExplorer5.0DEMofMt.St.Helensshowingtheamphitheaterlikedepressionat
thesummitproducedbythelateralblast.

AccordingtoR.J.Janda,K.M.Scott,K.M.Nolan,andH.A.MarttinsonoftheUnitedStates
GeologicalSurveyashotpyroclasticdebrismeltedsnowandiceontheupperslopesofMt.St.
Helens destructive lahars developed minutes after the May 18 eruption. Such lahars flowed
downtheMuddyRiver,PineCreek,andtheSouthForkToutleRiver(Figure8).Theseearly

Figure8.MapshowinglahardepositsfromMay18.ModifiedfromJandaetal.(1981).

fromPerilousEarth:UnderstandingProcessesBehindNaturalDisasters,ver.1.0,June,2009
byG.H.Girty,DepartmentofGeologicalSciences,SanDiegoStateUniversity

Page8


laharsmayhaveoriginatedaswetrockavalanchestravelinginitiallyatvelocitiesashighas45
meters per second (~148 feet per second). However, as they moved down valley, their
velocities decreased and they turned into mudflows, i.e., in a volcanic setting, a lahar
composedmostlyofmaterialfinergrainedthanabout0.06mm(e.g.,ofamixtureofsand,silt,
andclaybetweenabout20%to80%willbesiltsizedorsmaller).
Slumpingandflowageofwatersaturatedpartsofthedepositresultingfromtheinitial
debrisavalancheintheNorthForkToutleRiverproducedalaharthathadthegreatestvolume,
lowestvelocity,mostsustainedflow,andthegreatestlengthofflowthananyotherlaharthat
formed on May 18. In addition, deposits from this lahar are the coarsest and most poorly
sorted. As shown in Figure 8, the lahar flowing from the deposit derived from the debris
avalanchefollowedtworoutes,onedownthechannelofHoffstadtCreekandtheotherdown
the main channel of the North Fork Toutle River. These two flows converged just above the
smalltownofSt.Helens(Figure8).Fromthispointon,thelaharsweptawaybridgedecksand
girders as it moved downstream reaching a velocity of 12 meters per second (~39 feet per
second)belowthemouthofGreenRiver(Figure8).However,throughoutmostofitsreach,the
laharprobablytraveledatvelocitiesintherangeof6to8meterspersecond(~20to~26feet
per second), and upon reaching the main Toutle River continued for another 120 kilometers
(~74.5miles)downtheCowlitzandColumbiariverswhereitcausedwidespreadchannelfilling,
flooding,anddamagetoroads,bridges,andotherstructures.

Aftermath
Bythetimetheinitialpyroclasticflowfromthelateralblastencountereditsfirsthuman
victimsitwasstillveryhotandcomposedofsuffocatingamountsofgasandash.Mostofthe
overtaken victims died from asphyxiation but several individuals died from burns, while one
wasburiedunderhundredsoffeetofavalanchematerial.Inadditiontothelossofhumanlife,
200homes,27bridges,24kilometers(15miles)ofrailwaysand300kilometers(185miles)of
highwayweredestroyed.Inshort,bythetimetheeruptionwasover,57peoplehadlosttheir
livesand$2.74billion(2007dollars)indamagehadoccurred.

ReferencesUsedintheDevelopmentofthisChapter
BooksandPapers
Crandell,D.R.,andMullineaux,D,R.,1978,PotentialhazardsfromfutureeruptionsofMount
St.Helens,Washington:U.S.GeologicalSurveyBulletin1383C,26p.
Crandell,D.R.,Mullineaux,D.R.,andRubin,Meyer,1975,MountSt.HelensVolcano:Recent
andfuturebehavior:Science,v.187,no.4175,p.438441.
Janda,R.J.,Scott,K.M.,Nolan,K.M.,andMartinson,H.A.,1981,Laharmovement,effects,and
deposition, in Lipman, P.W., and Mullineaux, D.R., eds., The 1980 eruptions of Mount St.
Helens,Washington,U.S.GeologicalSurveyProfessionalpaper1250,p.461478.
fromPerilousEarth:UnderstandingProcessesBehindNaturalDisasters,ver.1.0,June,2009
byG.H.Girty,DepartmentofGeologicalSciences,SanDiegoStateUniversity

Page9

Lindsay, J., David, J., Sheperd, J., and Ephraim, J., 2002, Volcanic hazard assessment for Saint
Lucia, Lesser Antilles, Seismic Research Unit, The University of the West Indies, St.
Augustine,TrinidadandTobago,p.146.

Major, J.J, and Newhall, G.C., 1989, Snow and ice perturbation during historical volcanic
eruptionsandtheformationoflaharsandfloods,BulletinofVolcanology,v.52,p.127.

Tilling,R.I.,Topoinka,L.,andSwanson,D.A.,1993,EruptionsofMountSt.Helens:Past,present,
andfuture,version1.01:UnitedStateGeologicalSurveySpecialInterestPublication,56p.
http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/msh//title.html

Rosenberg,M.,2007,MountPinatuboEruption:ThevolcanicMountPinatuboeruptionof1991
that
cooled
the
planet

http://geography.about.com/od/globalproblemsandissues/a/pinatubo.htm

Self, S., 1992, Krakatau Revisited: The course of events and interpretations of the 1883
eruption,GeoJournal,v.28.2,p.109121.

GeneralWebSites
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cascade_Volcanoes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1980_eruption_of_Mount_St._Helens#Pyroclastic_flows

http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs02700/

http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/monitor/studies.html

http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/education

http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/images/pglossary

http://www.geology.sdsu.edu/how_volcanoes_work

http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2008/3062/fs20083062.pdf

fromPerilousEarth:UnderstandingProcessesBehindNaturalDisasters,ver.1.0,June,2009
byG.H.Girty,DepartmentofGeologicalSciences,SanDiegoStateUniversity

Page10