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Thursday, May 18, 2000

St. Helens blast
opens new road
in volcanology

By Helen Altonn


The eruption of Mount St. Helens 20 years ago today in southwestern Washington is recalled by a University of Hawaii volcanologist as "a major stepping stone in volcanology."

St. Helens exploded after slumbering 123 years in the Cascade Mountains, killing 60 people and flattening every tree in a 120-square-mile area.

"Although there was obviously a major impact on the Pacific Northwest, and on the landscape around the volcano, people are learning a lot in the recovery 20 years afterwards," said UH volcanologist Stephen Self.

"It corrected several avenues of research where people were starting to bark up the wrong tree. These range from major aspects in volcanology to relatively small but important changes of paradigm and concept."

Self and other UH volcanologists planned to discuss the significance and post-recovery of the St. Helens eruption during a luncheon gathering today in the Pacific Ocean and Science and Technology Building.

Other St. Helens researchers were UH volcanologist Peter Mouginis-Mark, retired UH volcanologist George Walker and visiting professor Lionel Wilson of Lancaster University in Great Britain.

Bruce Houghton, the UH's Gordon A. Macdonald Professor of Volcanology, is attending a St. Helens get-together at the Cascade Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Wash.

Self was teaching at Arizona State University when the eruption occurred -- the second biggest explosive eruption in the United States in the 20th century.

"It was such a short eruption -- about eight hours, at least for the main part of the eruption," he said. "If you tried to get there, you missed it. People living and working there were bombarded by a whole stream of scientists."

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