Latest: What volcanic eruptions can teach us

Mount St. Helens research enlightens the response to the recent Hawaiian eruption.

  • Lava flows on Kilauea Volcano in May.

    U.S. Geological Survey


On May 18, 1980, long-dormant Mount St. Helens erupted in southwest Washington, killing 57 people, flattening over 200 structures and 230 square miles of forest, and leaving a mile-wide crater. Charlie Crisafulli, a U.S. Forest Service research ecologist and one of the first to study the blast zone, and many others have spent decades figuring out how the eruption has shaped the region’s ecology (“Backpacking the blast zone,” HCN, 3/6/17).


Now, lessons from Mount St. Helens are proving useful in understanding Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, whose lava flows have obliterated at least 70 homes. The 1980 disaster showed how quickly a volcanic catastrophe can develop, Seth Moran, head scientist at the Cascades Volcano Observatory, told The Oregonian, and studies at Cascades and other observatories are helping scientists in Hawaii determine what might happen next at Kilauea. Meanwhile, Crisafulli and 32 other scientists have documented their environmental studies in a new book — Ecological Responses at Mount St. Helens: Revisited 35 Years After the 1980 Eruption.  

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