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Jul 28 2012

Too Awesome to Wait! Meet Volcanologist (and St. Helens Survivor) Dr. Catherine Hickson

You’ll get your UFD and Mystery Flora super combo later today, I promise. Right now, I just have to gush. I’m super-excited: I found another geologist who witnessed the May 1980 eruption! Catherine Hickson was a geology student from Canada, and she was only 15 miles east of the summit when it blew. She wrote a book on the experience (which I just ordered), and went on to become a renowned vulcanologist. Scha-weet!

Dr. Catherine Hickson. Image courtesy It’s MY Day.

There is an excellent story on her and her husband Paul’s escape from the blast zone that day. These lines give me shivers:

“I was frightened that entire morning,” she recently recalled. “But it changed me. It changed what I studied. It changed what I became.” She became Canada’s most celebrated volcanologist.

Can you see why I couldn’t wait to introduce her?

You know how I found her? USGS Professional Paper 1250 has a “Summary of Eyewitness Accounts of the May 18 Eruption.” And I’ve read it before, but I was reading it closely this time, because I’m deciding which survivors’ stories to highlight. The paper, in the beginning, just has a table with first initials and last names, location, and what they saw/did. There were quite a few witnesses interviewed – geologists were trying to piece together just what the hell had happened, and these folks with their accounts and sometimes photographs were invaluable to that effort. So they did up a whole paper with just their stories, this little table, and in the body of the paper, they’re pretty much just identified by their location: Dr. Hickson is “15E.” And I’m reading the first snippet from 15E:

“As the avalanche reached the halfway point on the mountain, the summit eruption began with a dense black cloud followed by lighter gray material. A second eruption halfway down the slope occurred moments later…”

And I stop, because in the intro, the authors of the paper have already stated that they used the witnesses’ own words. “That,” I thought, “sounds an awful lot like a geologist.” So I looked up “15E” in the table, found P & C Hickson, and googled “P Hickson Mount St Helens” on the off chance. And found Dr. Catherine Hickson. She, from the bits and pieces I’ve read, is amazing. So one of these days soon, I’m going to see if I can get in touch with her by email and see if she’ll do an interview for us. I’d love for us all to meet her!

Let me know what questions you have for a young geology student who came down for a gander at St. Helens and ended up having her entire future career changed. And if you of you lucky barstards gets to meet her IRL before I do, buy her a drink on me if she’s so inclined. I’ll reimburse you. She definitely deserves a toast!

Oh, and in case you couldn’t tell: “SQUEE!!!!!!!”

Finding out about awesome geologists like her is one of the major reasons why this blogging schtick is so damned rewarding. Ranks right up there with you, my darlings. Between the science, the scientists, and my readers, I have a perfect trifecta of win. So thank you!

2 comments

  1. 1
    rq

    I’m already looking forward to that interview.

  2. 2
    RW Ahrens

    So am I. The MSH blast was fascinating to me. I visited there a couple of years ago, and have some awesome photos of the mountain and the areas around it. Talk about a humbling experience…it really makes you see how puny we are next to the forces of nature!

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