Narrative of Mount St. Helens
Background
Perhaps no force of nature arouses more awe and wonder than that of a volcanic eruption. Volcanoes can be ruthless destroyers. Some scientists think that the greatest cataclysm known to man took place 75,000 years ago on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia--a volcanic explosion which left a 20 by 60 mile depression in Earth. Scientists believe that the explosion spewed enough ash in the atmosphere to cause wintry conditions around the world for many years. Primitive people offered sacrifices to stem the tide of such eruptions and created legends and myths centered around volcanic activity. (Planet Earth, 1982). Volcanoes continue to be extremely dangerous. In the 1980s, they killed an estimated 28,500 people.

Despite their ferocity, volcanoes are also benefactors. They build new land, add water to the sea, and help to produce the atmosphere. Volcanic processes have liberated gases of the atmosphere and water in our lakes and oceans from the rocks deep beneath the surface of Earth. They may have also accounted for a good share of the oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, chlorine, and nitrogen in the biosphere (Planet Earth, 1982). The fertility of the soil is greatly enhanced by volcanic products and land masses such as islands and large sections of continents may owe their existence entirely to volcanic activity. (Volcanoes in Eruption, NGDC). Photo: G.E. Ulrich, Hawaii Volcano Observatory, U.S. Geological Survey.

The Eruption of Mount St. Helens The Eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980 was the most destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States. Mount St. Helens is located in the southwest part of the state of Washington in the Cascade Range, a mountain range dominated by periodically active volcanic peaks. Geologists and volcanologists had studied Mount St. Helens in the 1970s and predicted that it would erupt before the turn of the century. The mountain was recognized as a dormant volcano that had erupted intermittently from 1831 to 1857. The Klickitat Indians of the Pacific Northwest called Mount St. Helens "Louwala-Clough" or smoking mountain. However, the beautiful snow-covered peak looked serene to the casual observer just days before the start of the eruptive activity. A tour of the information about the Mount St. Helens' eruption will provide us with excellent information about the dangers of an eruption from Mount Rainier. Photo: Courtesy of NGDC/NOAA.

Mount St. Helens was one of the most beautiful mountains in the entire Cascade range in the American Northwest. It was described by William Clark in the Lewis and Clark expedition as "perhaps the greatest pinnacle in America." Mount St. Helens was a beautiful, symmetric cone capped by snow and glaciers and surrounded by clear lakes and dense forests. Photo: Courtesy of NGDC/NOAA.

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