Mount St. Helens a decade after the 1980 eruptions: magmatic models, chemical cycles, and a revised hazards assessment

Bulletin of Volcanology

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DOI: 10.1007/BF00278003



Available geophysical and geologic data provide a simplified model of the current magmatic plumbing system of Mount St. Helens (MSH). This model and new geochemical data are the basis for the revised hazards assessment presented here. The assessment is weighted by the style of eruptions and the chemistry of magmas erupted during the past 500 years, the interval for which the most detailed stratigraphic and geochemical data are available. This interval includes the Kalama (A. D. 1480-1770s?), Goat Rocks (A.D. 1800-1857), and current eruptive periods. In each of these periods, silica content decreased, then increased. The Kalama is a large amplitude chemical cycle (SiO2: 57%-67%), produced by mixing of arc dacite, which is depleted in high field-strength and incompatible elements, with enriched (OIB-like) basalt. The Goat Rocks and current cycles are of small amplitude (SiO2: 61%-64% and 62%-65%) and are related to the fluid dynamics of magma withdrawal from a zoned reservoir. The cyclic behavior is used to forecast future activity. The 1980-1986 chemical cycle, and consequently the current eruptive period, appears to be virtually complete. This inference is supported by the progressively decreasing volumes and volatile contents of magma erupted since 1980, both changes that suggest a decreasing potential for a major explosive eruption in the near future. However, recent changes in seismicity and a series of small gas-release explosions (beginning in late 1989 and accompanied by eruption of a minor fraction of relatively low-silica tephra on 6 January and 5 November 1990) suggest that the current eruptive period may continue to produce small explosions and that a small amount of magma may still be present within the conduit. The gas-release explosions occur without warning and pose a continuing hazard, especially in the crater area. An eruption as large or larger than that of 18 May 1980 (???0.5 km3 dense-rock equivalent) probably will occur only if magma rises from an inferred deep (???7 km), relative large (5-7 km3) reservoir. A conservative approach to hazard assessment is to assume that this deep magma is rich in volatiles and capable of erupting explosively to produce voluminous fall deposits and pyroclastic flows. Warning of such an eruption is expectable, however, because magma ascent would probably be accompanied by shallow seismicity that could be detected by the existing seismic-monitoring system. A future large-volume eruption (???0.1 km3) is virtually certain; the eruptive history of the past 500 years indicates the probability of a large explosive eruption is at least 1% annually. Intervals between large eruptions at Mount St. Helens have varied widely; consequently, we cannot confidently forecast whether the next large eruption will be years decades, or farther in the future. However, we can forecast the types of hazards, and the areas that will be most affected by future large-volume eruptions, as well as hazards associated with the approaching end of the current eruptive period. ?? 1992 Springer-Verlag.

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Mount St. Helens a decade after the 1980 eruptions: magmatic models, chemical cycles, and a revised hazards assessment
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