What Surprised Geologists About The 1980 Eruption

Tuesday, February 18, 2020
5:30 pm8:30 pm
4600 SE Columbia Way, Vancouver, WA 98661

Doors open at 5:30 pm.
Event begins at 6:30 pm.
Food and libations available.

The May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens forever changed the way in which volcanoes are studied,
volcanic risk is managed and how communities deal with volcanoes in their backyards. Three USGS scientists,
who were part of the 1980 eruption response, were asked what surprised or intrigued them about the eruption.
Their answers might also surprise you.

1980 survivors provide riveting narratives and a fuller understanding of the eruption.

Richard Waitt is a research geologist at the USGS–Cascades Volcano Observatory. On May 18, 1980, Richard
watched as logs traveled 30 mph beneath the Cowlitz River bridge. He collected ash in the upper Cowlitz under
headlamps until 4 AM. He was on a dawn surveillance flight two days later . Soon thereafter he began contacting
survivors of the May 18, 1980, eruption and chronicling their riveting narratives. He interviewed about 400
people, including survivors, fellow scientists, law officers, state and federal officials, campers, loggers, local
residents, journalists, pilots, and military rescue personnel. The tales reveal things about the science of the
event and helped Richard piece together a fuller understanding of the catastrophic eruption.

Renewal and discovery springs from disaster.

Carolyn Driedger is a Hydrologist and Outreach Coordinator at the USGS–Cascades Volcano Observatory. Carolyn
began her career with studies of glaciers on volcanoes. Her interest was diverted in 1980 when she witnessed
the catastrophic eruption of Mount St. Helens, and later the eruption of 2004-2008. On both occasions Carolyn
participated in intense responses to news media interest. That experience deepened her appreciation for pre-
eruption emergency planning, and the need for ‘long-term conversations’ between scientists and society about
volcano hazards.

When did the 1980 eruption start and when will it end?

Dan Dzurisin is a scientist emeritus at the USGS–Cascades Volcano Observatory. In 1980, while conducting
research on magma supply and storage at Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, he was called to Vancouver to be a
member of the USGS team responding to the reawakening of Mount St. Helens. Dan’s research specialty is
volcano geodesy—the science of how and why volcanoes deform in response to magmatic, tectonic, and
hydrothermal processes. A particular area of interest is the 1980 “bulge” and studies of Mount St. Helens’
magmatic system that provide clues about past and future eruptions.