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Debate over the future of Mount St Helens 18 August 2009

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The Mount St Helens eruption of 18 May 1980 created a unique opportunity for scientists to study how a landscape recovers from a major destructive event. To facilitate long-term research the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument was established in 1982 ‘for research, recreation, and education’. The MSHNVM website explains that ‘Inside the Monument the environment is left to respond naturally to the disturbance’; the 110,000 acres (44,500 hectares) of the Monument is essentially a vast open-air laboratory within which scientists can investigate in depth and over time how an entire landscape and ecosystem reacts to large-scale disruption.

An article in the New York Times looks at the future of the Mount St Helens Volcanic Monument, and the differing views over how the mountain and its landscape should be managed in the future. The Monument, which is run by the United States Forestry Service, has been in place for nearly thirty years: is it time things changed? The prioritization of research means access to the area around the mountain is restricted and economic and recreational activities that were very much part of the local landscape before the eruption are no longer permitted. Should the balance between the needs of scientific study and other human activities be changed? Then there is the question of who should manage Mount St Helens, the Forestry Service as at present, or the better-financed U.S. National Parks Service. If the mountain became a National Park more money could be put into it, but there is the danger (as some see it) that access might be even more severely restricted.

These are the issues currently being weighed up by the Mount St Helens Citizen Advisory Committee, set up to investigate and make recommendations regarding how the mountain and its landscape should be managed in the future. The resulting debate reflects the tensions and compromises involved in exploiting a unique opportunity for scientific study in a landscape that is not static but ever-changing, and of which human activities are an aspect that is as natural as any other.

News
Clash over rebirth of Mt. St. HelensNew York Times, 17 August 2009

Information
Global Volcanism Program: Mount St Helens – summary information for Mount St Helens (1201-05-)
Cascades Volcano Observatory: Mount St Helens – information from the CVO
Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument – website for the MSHNVM

NASA spiders monitor Mount St Helens 17 August 2009

Posted by admin in current research, Mount St Helens, natural hazards, United States, volcano monitoring.
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A burst of publicity has accompanied the deployment by NASA of high-tech monitoring units called ‘spiders’ (consisting of a body containing instruments, supported by eight – no, three – spindly legs) at Mount St Helens. The story isn’t new in itself: ‘spiders’ have been in use for some time at the volcano, with scientists varying the instrument payload inside each spider as conditions and budgets required.

‘Each pod’, reports ScienceDaily, ‘contains a seismometer to detect earthquakes; a GPS receiver to pinpoint the exact location and measure subtle ground deformation; an infrared sounder to sense volcanic explosions; and a lightning detector to search for ash cloud formation’. The idea is that the spiders represent a cost-effective, quick-deploying and flexible means of monitoring volcanoes that are showing signs of activity, and could be particularly valuable in providing networks for unmonitored volcanoes in remote and/or less technologically developed parts of the world. More from the ScienceDaily report:

‘We hope this network will provide a blueprint for future networks to be installed on many of the world’s unmonitored active volcanoes, so educated and reliable estimates can be made when a town or a village needs to be evacuated to reduce the risk to life and property’, said Project Manager Sharon Kedar (shah-RONE keh-DARR) of JPL.

The spiders are developed and deployed in a joint project involving Washington State University, USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Pasadena (pas-ah-DEE-nah).

News
NASA goes inside a volcano, monitors activity – ScienceDaily, 12 August 2009
NASA drops ‘spiders’ into volcano – National Geographic News, 13 August 2009
NASA drops probes into volatile volcano – LiveScience, 14 August 2009

Information
Global Volcanism Program: Mount St Helens – summary information for Mount St Helens (1201-05-)
Volcano Sensorweb – JPL Volcano Sensorweb website

The Volcanism Blog

NASA Earth Observatory images: Chaitén and Mount St Helens 30 May 2008

Posted by admin in calderas, Chaitén, Chile, eruptions, images, Mount St Helens, United States, volcanoes.
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There’s an interesting pairing of topographic views at the NASA Earth Observatory right now: a comparison of Chaitén and Mount St Helens volcanoes. The images are derived from elevation data collected by the Advanced Spaceborne Emission and Reflective Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite. The data for Chaitén were collected on 1 April 2006, before the current eruption, and the data for Mount St Helens were collected on 31 May 2007.

Comparison of Chaiten and Mount St Helens (NASA)

The images are to a uniform scale. Perhaps the most immediately striking thing is how large a feature Chaitén is, with its 2.5x4km caldera: the Global Volcanism Program calls it ‘small’, which in comparison to Santorini (12x7km), Crater Lake (8x10km), or a real monster like Toba (35x100km), is probably fair enough, but it’s still pretty sizeable. The crater left at Mount St Helens by the May 1980 eruption looks quite modest by comparison, but is nothing of the kind, of course. It was also formed in quite a different way, through a catastrophic explosion; the Chaitén caldera was formed by the volcano collapsing into its own emptied magma chamber. Except when viewed from above Chaitén is an inconspicuous part of the landscape being low in elevation, the rim reaching 1122m at its highest point. Mount St Helens, at 2549m, is more than twice its height. It’s interesting to ponder what kind and size of edifice Chaitén was before the eruption that brought about its collapse into a caldera, 10,000 or so years ago.

For all our Chaitén coverage: Chaitén « The Volcanism Blog.

Information
Global Volcanism Program: Chaitén – summary information for Chaitén (1508-41)
Global Volcanism Program: Mount St Helens – summary information for Mount St Helens (1201-05-)
USGS Photo Glossary: caldera – definition, explanation and illustration of ‘caldera’ from the USGS
Global Volcanism Program: calderas – more about calderas from the GVP’s ‘Types and Processes Gallery’

The Volcanism Blog

Mount St Helens lava dome growth: time lapse video at Geology News 23 May 2008

Posted by admin in blogs, geoscience, Mount St Helens, Uncategorized, United States.
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Dave Schumaker at Geology News has uploaded a fascinating time-lapse video from the USGS showing the growth of the lava dome at Mount St Helens between November 2004 and February 2008. The Cascades Volcano Observatory noted in a 21 February 2008 update that growth of the lava dome paused in late January 2008, and no growth has taken place since.

Given the dome-building process now under way at Chaitén, this video is a topical find. Unscientific musing: the St Helens dome looks quite sinister at times, although not as downright wicked-looking as the one at Kelut (image comes from here).

Geology News >> Video of Mount St. Helens Lava Dome Growth

Information
Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Program – summary information for Mount St Helens (1201-05-)
CVO Mount St. Helens – current activity information page from the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory

The Volcanism Blog

On this day: the Mount St Helens eruption, 18 May 1980 18 May 2008

Posted by admin in anniversaries, eruptions, Mount St Helens, United States.
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May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. USGS Photograph taken on May 18, 1980, by Robert Krimmel.

On this day twenty-eight years ago, 18 May 1980, Mount St Helens in Washington State, USA, erupted in the most destructive and deadly volcanic eruption in United States history. Fifty-seven people were killed, over one billion dollars of economic damage done, and vast stretches of landscape laid waste by this cataclysmic event.

Resources
Global Volcanism Program: Mount St. Helens – summary information for Mount St Helens (1201-05-)
CVO Menu – Mount St. Helens, Washington – Cascades Volcano Observatory main page for Mount St Helens
CVO Menu – Mount St. Helens – May 18, 1980 – links to a large number of USGS publications and other resources dealing with the eruption
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument – an 110,000-acre area around the volcano, created ‘for research, recreation and education’
Mt St Helens – 25 Years Later – online feature from local Washington newspaper The Daily News, created in 2005 for the 25th anniversary of the eruption

The Volcanism Blog