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Report on St. Helens (United States) — April 1982

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 7, no. 4 (April 1982)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

St. Helens (United States) Lava extrusion adds new lobe to composite dome

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1982. Report on St. Helens (United States). In: McClelland, L. (ed.), Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 7:4. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198204-321050.

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)


The tephra volume of the 19 March eruption column was of the same order of magnitude as (but probably slightly less than) that of the October 1980 cloud (not 20-60 times less, as reported in SEAN 07:03). Extrusion of lava onto the N side of the composite dome stopped by 10 April and seismicity had dropped to low levels by the 12th, but another dome-building phase began on 14 May.

During the 19 March activity, the crater-floor thrust fault scarps near the dome were either buried or scoured away. Measurement of the rates of movement of these small faults had previously been an important deformation monitoring technique. By early May a number of small new thrusts had formed on the crater floor W and SW of the dome, but had not yet yielded useful deformation data. Data from a continuously recording tiltmeter NW of the dome varied considerably from dry tilt measurements made as little as 100 m away, indicating that (as in previous inter-eruption periods) the crater floor was deforming as a group of relatively small, independent blocks rather than as a coherent unit.

Rates of SO2 emission have remained at about two times background levels since the end of lava extrusion 10 April. Ejection of small, ash-poor plumes from the dome's summit began 21 April, and geologists observed 1-2/day through early May. Many of the plumes could be correlated with seismic events, some of which were felt in the crater. Comparison of distance measurements made immediately before and after individual plume ejections showed that points on the dome had moved outward and upward by 3-5 cm after each small explosion.

Swelling of the composite dome was relatively slow until early May, then accelerated. By 11 May the SW portion of the dome was moving outward as much as 70 cm/day. Other areas of the dome were less active. Although the SW portion of the dome had also experienced the most rapid expansion prior to the October-November 1981 eruption, the lobe extruded during that episode emerged from the N part of the dome's summit area.

The number of local earthquakes began to build about 8 May and by 12 May had reached about 12 events per day (magnitude greater than about 1). All were shallow and had magnitudes of less than 2. Many were felt by geologists working near the dome.

Because of the increasing seismicity and deformation, the USGS and University of Washington issued a joint extended outlook advisory late 11 May stating that an eruption was likely to begin within the next week, possibly within the next few days. The number of shallow, low-frequency events grew considerably late 13 May. Lava began to emerge from the summit of the composite dome between 0100 and 0200 on 14 May and began to flow down the dome's NE flank. Harmonic tremor increased substantially about 0200, and a steam plume rose about 2 km above the crater rim. Deformation and growth of the dome was continuing on crater rim. Deformation and growth of the dome was continuing on 17 May, but seismicity had gradually decreased.

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: T. Casadevall, C. Newhall, D. Peterson, D. Swanson, USGS CVO, Vancouver, WA; C. Boyko, S. Malone, E. Endo, C. Weaver, University of Washington, D. Harris, University of Alberta.