When Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, the north face of
the mountain collapsed, and a massive avalanche of rock, mud, and
volcanic debris thundered down the mountain. The description of the
event on the Mount St.
Helens National Monument Website reads, "Nearly 230 square
miles of forest [were] blown down or buried beneath volcanic deposits.
[A] mushroom-shaped column of ash rose thousands of feet skyward and
drifted downwind, turning day into night."
The creation of a national monument at the site has given
scientists the chance to document and study how forests generate from
such a major disturbance. Astronaut photographs, such as this one
taken on October 28, 2008, collected over nearly three decades have
helped to tell the story of the eruption and its long-term effects.
Taken from an oblique (side angle) perspective, this photo has a
striking three-dimensional quality. The astronaut was photographing
the mountain from a vantage point in the east (i.e., looking west.)
Mount St. Helens is at image left, and the blast/debris zone is to the
Nearly three decades after the eruption, the impact on the forest
in the blast zone is still obvious. South of the mountain, lush green
forests cover the landscape, while north of the mountain, vegetation
remains sparse, particularly on higher elevations. Different areas of
the blown down or buried forests are recovering at different speeds.
Recovery is slower in forests that had been clear cut before the
eruption, and faster in places where vegetation was protected from
erosion, wind, drying, and temperature extremes by fallen
giants-old growth Douglas fir trees blown down in the
eruption-or by snow pack.
In the six years following the catastrophic eruption, more than 120
million cubic yards of lava oozed from vents in the summit crater,
building a lava dome that rose to 876 feet above the crater floor.
Dome growth stopped for many years, and then resumed in 2004.
According to the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory Website,
"From October 2004 to late January 2008, about 125 million cubic
yards of lava had erupted onto the crater floor to form a new
dome." In July 2008, after five months during which no new
evidence of eruptive activity was detected, geologists declared the
- Cascades Volcano Observatory. (2008, July). Mount St. Helens Returns to Slumber. Accessed December 19,
- U.S. Geological Survey. (2000). Mount St. Helens–
From the 1980 Eruption to 2000. U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet
036-00. Accessed December 19, 2008.
- USDA Forest Service, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
(n.d.) Post-Eruption Plant Succession Repeat Photos. Published online
in 25 Years of Change As Revealed Through Repeat Photographs. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Photo Library.
Accessed December 19, 2008.
Astronaut photograph ISS018-E-5643 was acquired October 28, 2008, using a Nikon D2Xs
digital camera with a 400 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew
Earth Observations experiment and the Image Science & Analysis
Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 18 crew. The image in this article has been cropped
and enhanced to improve contrast. Lens artifacts have been removed.
The International Space Station Program supports the
laboratory to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of
the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those
images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by
astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by Rebecca
- ISS - Digital Camera
- Date Acquired:
- October 28, 2008