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Report on St. Helens (United States) — March 1986

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 11, no. 3 (March 1986)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

St. Helens (United States) Steam and ash plumes; deeper earthquakes

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1986. Report on St. Helens (United States). In: McClelland, L. (ed.), Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 11:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198603-321050.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


St. Helens

United States

46.2°N, 122.18°W; summit elev. 2549 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


During March, seismicity, rates of SO2 emission, and deformation remained at background levels. Maximum deformation rates on the dome were 1-2 mm/day, measured across the graben formed during the last extrusive event in May-June 1985. An average of 20 plus or minus 5 t/d of SO2 were measured in March during three overflights. Seismicity was also at background levels, although 17 small, but deeper than usual, earthquakes were located between 29 January and 1 April. These medium- to high-frequency events had a depth range of 3-8 km and epicenters trended NNW to SSE across the crater.

On 16 April at 1717, a minor gas-and-ash emission event sent a plume to 5.4 km above the dome. An airplane pilot reported that the cloud moved NE from the volcano. A smaller plume rose < 2 km above the crater rim the next day at 1428. Beginning early 15 April, there had been several occasions on which brief bursts of seismicity were associated with minor (1-2 mm) dome strain episodes (measured by continuously-recording strainmeter across a zone of cracks just N of the graben), tilt excursions of a few µrads, and increases in the signal from the dome gas sensor, which detects H2, H2S, and SO2. Earlier (and weaker) episodes of instrumental activity were accompanied by poor weather that prevented observation of associated emissions. Occasional deeper earthquakes, like those located in February and March, continued through mid-April, and there was no significant change in the volcano's seismic energy release. No general increase in the rate of swelling of the dome was detected before the emission of the steam-and-ash plumes.

No episodes of gas-and-ash emission had been seen since mid-May 1985, shortly before the last lava extrusion episode (SEAN 10:05).

Geologic Background. Prior to 1980, Mount St. Helens formed a conical, youthful volcano sometimes known as the Fuji-san of America. During the 1980 eruption the upper 400 m of the summit was removed by slope failure, leaving a 2 x 3.5 km horseshoe-shaped crater now partially filled by a lava dome. Mount St. Helens was formed during nine eruptive periods beginning about 40-50,000 years ago and has been the most active volcano in the Cascade Range during the Holocene. Prior to 2200 years ago, tephra, lava domes, and pyroclastic flows were erupted, forming the older St. Helens edifice, but few lava flows extended beyond the base of the volcano. The modern edifice was constructed during the last 2200 years, when the volcano produced basaltic as well as andesitic and dacitic products from summit and flank vents. Historical eruptions in the 19th century originated from the Goat Rocks area on the north flank, and were witnessed by early settlers.

Information Contacts: D. Swanson and J. Sutton, CVO; C. Jonientz-Trisler, University of Washington.