Mount St. Helens Esoterica. Also, Blogathon for the SSA!

I’m deep in research for upcoming Mount St. Helens posts, so blogging will be light for a few days. Fortunately for you, some of my fellow FtBers are insane enough to engage in a blogathon for the Secular Student Alliance. Right now, Brianne at Biodork and Christina at WWJTD are engaged in mad blogging for an excellent cause. So read JT’s post about his work for the SSA and why it’s so critically important. It’s a great read, full of squee moments and packed with controversy. Once you’ve done that, are fired up and ready to go, head on over and support Brianne and Christine in their efforts to raise cold hard cash for secular students.

While they’re doing that, I’m diving deep into that monster 800+ paper on Mount St. Helens, collecting all sorts of delicious science for ye, and lemme tell ya, our Prelude to a Catastrophe series on Rosetta Stones is about to get explosive. In the meantime, here are some of the random bits that have amused me to no end during this long slog:

  • In a description of the seismic network around St. Helens, I came across this LOL: “The instrument at MUD was buried by a mudflow…” How very appropriate!
  • Burlington Northern owned the summit of Mount St. Helens in 1980. Considering there was no summit after May 18 (the top 1,312 feet of the mountain were just gone), sucks to be them. How do you even claim that on your insurance?
  • The geologists, seismologists and other scientists were amazing. I’d had no idea how fast they cottoned on to the fact that Mount St. Helens was waking up, but they had it figured out in a flash. You’ll get the details in our next installment. Your jaw might drop. When the post is up, please send links to Governor Bobby Jindal via (email or Twitter) under the heading “Volcano Monitoring: It’s Important, You Dumbshit.”

Things I have learned about myself whilst buried deep in this paper:

  • I desperately need some chemistry. Believe it or not, I was actually pretty decent at chemistry in high school, but it was one class twenty years ago, and I’ve forgotten nearly everything. This is an issue when trying to read papers about the chemistry of volcanic gasses and so forth. I had to spend an inordinate amount of time on Wikipedia looking up things like SO4² (sulfate), COS (carbonyl sulfide), and CH4 (methane, for fuck’s sake. How could I not recognize methane?). I skimmed the articles on each, and understand about 1 word in 5. Sigh. Well, I taught meself enough geology to make some sense of it. I shall do the same with chemistry.
  • I’m not stellar at understanding deformational studies. I can’t read a topo map to save my life and I have no idea what people are talking about when they present the results of gravitational studies and tiltmeter readings. Also holes in my knowledge that will have to be plugged at some point.
  • The scientists brave enough to climb down into the crater of a vigorously active volcano to get samples have my undying respect. So do all of the other scientists who said, “Oh, it’s exploding? Well, this is the perfect time to study it!” and took calculated but still not inconsiderable risks to get us the information we needed to figure out what St. Helens would do. They’re amazing, each and every one, and I wish to buy every current scientist who studies volcanoes a beer. Look me up if you’re ever around Seattle, people. (The offer stands for relatives and friends of scientists who are no longer with us, but contributed to our knowledge. Let’s raise a round to their good memory.)

I’ve gotta get back to it. Tons of work to get done, I’m scheduled to go do a thing called “recreation” tomorrow, which is rumored to be a thing called “fun” that you do in a place known as “outdoors,” none of which I’ve experienced much of lately, and that paper ain’t reading itself. I shall leave you with a photo of Mount St. Helens busily building her dome in 2007.

Mount St. Helens from Johnston Ridge, May 2007

PS, don’t forget the SSA!


  1. says

    Burlington Northern owned the summit of Mount St. Helens in 1980. Considering there was no summit after May 18 (the top 1,312 feet of the mountain were just gone), sucks to be them. How do you even claim that on your insurance?

    So who owned the north flank? And do they now own the bottom of Spirit Lake?

  2. Trebuchet says

    So who owned the north flank? And do they now own the bottom of Spirit Lake?

    I know you’re kidding, but I’m pretty sure all of the formerly private land within the National Monument is now owned by the Feds. Who no doubt paid too much for it.

    One of the sad and little known facts about the eruption of 1980 is that most of those killed were not in the official “red zone” — because the boundaries were drawn not on the basis of danger, but to limit interference with Weyerhauser logging operations. Lots of loggers were lucky it happened on a Sunday.

    • Dana Hunter says

      I know you all know, but for those who don’t: I just want to emphasize that geologists pushed hard for better boundaries. I’m seeing Dwight Crandell in particular stress the dangers every time people got the urge to relax restrictions – he was point guy for hazards. All of them were seriously concerned. Too bad too many others blew off the warnings. Geologists knew MSH wasn’t likely to go quietly. Especially not with that bulging north slope…

    • says

      “Lots of loggers were lucky…” I was, and I was in the dead zone.

      A couple of years prior (and not too terribly far away) I witnessed a total solar eclipse, which until May 18 1980 I thought was the most primordial experience I had ever experienced. Awe, man, awe.

  3. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    I was in Mexico City the day MSH blew her top off, and the initial newscaster reaction was “pish, tosh” until the photos arrived, then it was “OMG END OF THE WORLD, the Pacific Northwest is GONE!” for a while.

    Eventually they rounded up some real vulcanologists, who resented being dragged away from their labs and Sunday futbol to explain what they had been explaining for weeks – it was an earth-shattering kaboom with a huge ash cloud, and not at all unexpected.