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Past, Present, and Future Research on Mount St. Helens

Posted by Matt Burks, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station in Forestry Research and Science
Jul 29, 2021
Mount St. Helens
In the forty years since the 1980 eruption, scientists have studied ecological recovery at the volcano. Today, Mount St. Helens is the most studied volcano in the world and has changed how we understand ecological recovery. Forest Service/Photo

Mount St. Helens, in Washington State, erupted 40 years ago today. The largest landslide in recorded history filled valleys below with debris, and ash fell from the sky for weeks, blanketing the nearby area and affecting regions as far away as the Rocky Mountains. Within just two weeks, ash from the blast had circled the globe. 57 people lost their lives and hundreds of homes, buildings and structures were destroyed.

After the eruption, the summit of Mount St. Helens was gone, forests were obliterated and rivers followed new courses. More than 150 new lakes and ponds were formed, and existing lakes filled with sediment, flooding their banks. The eruption created a mosaic of disturbances where the landscape continues to change.

Ten days after the eruption, researchers from the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station flew over the blast area collect ecological data that would become the foundation of the one of the largest repositories of information about volcanology at any one site.

In 1982, Congress declared Mount St. Helens a national monument. This helped to make the mountain one of the foremost volcanology projects in the world, alongside Krakatoa in Indonesia and Surtsey, a volcanic island off the coast of Iceland.

The return of plants, animals and new ecosystems has been documented on the slopes of Mount St. Helens over the past 40 years. These studies have revealed extremely diverse habitats and unique biological communities.

With four decades of discovery behind them, scientists are now looking to the future and new possibilities.

Researchers at Mount St. Helens are busy cataloging and sending plant and animal samples to libraries across the nation for future scientists to study. Two hundred years from now, scientists may be able to learn from these samples using new technologies that we can’t yet imagine.

Forty years is barely a wink in geologic time. What knowledge will the next 40, or 400 years bring? Mount St. Helens continues to surprise scientists with its mysteries. As they learn, the lessons they uncover continue to help communities worldwide cope with similar disturbances, as well as those yet to come.

See the Biological Legacy of Mt. St. Helens:

(Video by Science Communications Fellow, Alexandra Freibott)

The Mount St. Helens Institute website has educational materials for all ages at www.mshinstitute.org.

Prairie lupine growing on the slopes
Prairie lupine growing on the slopes leading down to Spirit Lake, with Mount Rainier visible in the distance. ORISE Photo/Alexandra Freibott, Science Communications Fellow
Category/Topic: Forestry Research and Science

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Comments

maxwell carter
Dec 17, 2020

it was really cool how the mountain was shaped

Kollin
Feb 24, 2021

I think its weird that the volcanoes are close together

Bob
Apr 26, 2021

good story i like how you explain how you talked about past, present and future in the story

Austin
May 14, 2021

My sincerest gratitude for the excellent, consise information presented in this neatly written article. This has aided me greatly in my essay on Mt. St. Helens. The funding of informational branches of the government should be continued, they are wonderful sources for the young bright minds of this nation, who carry the legacy of the future.

Bob
May 14, 2021

Thankyou this was very helpful. Helped me with my reseach project.