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Report on St. Helens (United States) — January 1983

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 8, no. 1 (January 1983)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

St. Helens (United States) New lobe extruded onto composite lava dome

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1983. Report on St. Helens (United States). In: McClelland, L. (ed.), Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 8:1. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198301-321050.

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)


Increases in SO2 emission, deformation, and seismicity preceded a series of small explosions and the extrusion of a new lobe onto the composite lava dome, the first since August 1982.

The rate of SO2 emission, which had remained very low for several months, tripled between measurements 13 and 15 January and remained between 70 and 120 t/d through the end of the month. About twenty small shallow earthquakes were recorded 17-18 January, but seismicity declined and remained at background levels for the next 2 weeks. Heavy snow in the crater made deformation measurements impossible on the S and E sides of the dome, but very slow acceleration in the rate of outward movement of the dome's N side began in mid-January. A few small gas-and-ash emissions occurred in late January.

Gas monitoring on 30 January showed that SO2 emission had increased to roughly twice the rate of the previous 2 weeks, and SO2 flux ranged from 170 to 260 t/d through 7 February. On 31 January, a pronounced acceleration was measured in the outward movement of the N side of the dome. Points on the W side of the dome, usually the area of most rapid outward movement, showed little such activity, but sagged downward several tens of centimeters. A gradual, slight increase in the number of seismic events began 1 February, but seismicity remained relatively weak, reaching about the level of the 17-18 January activity.

At 2339 on 2 February and 0256 the next morning, explosions sent plumes containing small amounts of ash to about 6 km altitude. A pilot reported that the cloud top was at 8 km altitude at 0015 on 3 February. GOES East satellite images showed the plumes moving slowly NW. At 0430 a cloud about 150 km in diameter remained centered over the volcano, but it had begun to diffuse 30 minutes later and by 0530 had reached nearly to Puget Sound, about 100 km from the volcano. Ashfall was reported at Olympia, near the S end of Puget Sound. During a predawn flight 3 February, geologists observed that the explosions had created a small notch in the upper E flank of the dome. Within the crater, the deposits from these explosions showed a complex stratigraphy. Rare breadcrust bombs were found at the top of the deposits. A laterally-directed component from one or both of the explosions melted snow on the E crater floor and wall, producing a mudflow that reached Spirit Lake. The ash column from a third explosion on 4 February at 1728 reached about 4.5 km altitude. This explosion enlarged the flank notch to 60-100 m deep and 80-100 m wide. Deformation data on 3 and 5 February showed continued acceleration of outward movement of the N side of the dome, reaching 5-6 cm/day by the 5th. Visual observations showed severe deformation of the E side of the dome, where a large wedge of rock just S of the notch had tipped up and out several meters. Locatable seismic events stopped 5 February, and only events typically associated with steam emissions and rockfalls were detected during the next several days.

Late 5 February, the USGS and University of Washington issued an extended outlook advisory notice stating that an eruption was likely within the next week and could include some explosive activity. Poor weather prevented observations until about noon on 7 February, when geologists observed the extrusion of a new lobe of lava from the floor of the E flank notch. Lava advanced mainly toward the E, filling the notch, and by afternoon had reached the top of the talus pile at the base of the dome. From the air, geologists estimated that the new lobe extended roughly 100 m E-W and 50 m N-S. A small explosion occurred from the dome at 1640 on 7 February. Weather conditions prevented access to the crater for the next few days, but seismographs recorded rockfall events, suggesting that the new lobe continued to advance. Glimpses of the dome beneath low weather clouds 14 February indicated that the new lobe was still growing.

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. Swanson, S. Brantley, USGS CVO, Vancouver, WA; S. Malone, University of Washington; D. Haller, NOAA/NESDIS.