Languages of Volcanic Landscapes

Frederick J. Swanson


As a young geologist in 1980, I felt a powerful attraction to volcanoes, and I thought I knew volcanoes rather well. I had studied volcanology. I had combed volcanic peaks in the Cascades. And I had tried to be an attentive citizen of my volcanic region, the Pacific Northwest. But when I had a chance to go with other scientists to Mount St. Helens within days of its May 18, 1980, eruption, that all changed. I stepped out of a helicopter into the dust and mist of the blasted landscape, and I could barely comprehend where I was. Everything was gray in the normally green Pacific Northwest landscape. Muddy geysers erupted on the newly formed Pumice Plain below, and the volcano responsible for this chaos was hidden in the clouds. The helicopter radio passed on messages of continuing harmonic tremor, signaling possible further eruptive activity. My preconceptions of how volcanic landscape behave in the aftermath of an eruption were blown away like the top of St. Helens, and I’ve been reconstructing my understanding ever since.

From In the Blast Zone, page 105. (OSU Press, 2008)

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