Mount St. Helens: A 30-Year Legacy of Volcanism



The spectacular eruption of Mount St. Helens on 18 May 1980 electrified scientists and the public. Photodocumentation of the colossal landslide, directed blast, and ensuing eruption column—which reached as high as 25 kilometers in altitude and lasted for nearly 9 hours—made news worldwide. Reconnaissance of the devastation spurred efforts to understand the power and awe of those moments (Figure 1).

The eruption remains a seminal historical event—studying it and its aftermath revolutionized the way scientists approach the field of volcanology. Not only was the eruption spectacular, but also it occurred in daytime, at an accessible volcano, in a country with the resources to transform disaster into scientific opportunity, amid a transformation in digital technology. Lives lost and the impact of the eruption on people and infrastructure downstream and downwind made it imperative for scientists to investigate events and work with communities to lessen losses from future eruptions.