A devastating pyroclastic surge and resultant lahars at Mount St. Helens on 18 May 1980 produced several catastrophic flowages into tributaries on the northeast volcano flank. The tributaries channeled the flows to Smith Creek valley, which lies within the area devastated by the surge but was unaffected by the great debris avalanche on the north flank. Stratigraphy shows that the pyroclastic surge preceded the lahars; there is no notable "wet" character to the surge deposits. Therefore the lahars must have originated as snowmelt, not as ejected water-saturated debris that segregated from the pyroclastic surge as has been inferred for other flanks of the volcano. In stratigraphic order the Smith Creek valley-floor materials comprise (1) a complex valley-bottom facies of the pyroclastic surge and a related pyroclastic flow, (2) an unusual hummocky diamict caused by complex mixing of lahars with the dry pyroclastic debris, and (3) deposits of secondary pyroclastic flows. These units are capped by silt containing accretionary lapilli, which began falling from a rapidly expanding mushroom-shaped cloud 20 minutes after the eruption's onset. The Smith Creek valley-bottom pyroclastic facies consists of (a) a weakly graded basal bed of fines-poor granular sand, the deposit of a low-concentration lithic pyroclastic surge, and (b) a bed of very poorly sorted pebble to cobble gravel inversely graded near its base, the deposit of a high-concentration lithic pyroclastic flow. The surge apparently segregated while crossing the steep headwater tributaries of Smith Creek; large fragments that settled from the turbulent surge formed a dense pyroclastic flow along the valley floor that lagged behind the front of the overland surge. The unusual hummocky diamict as thick as 15 m contains large lithic clasts supported by a tough, brown muddy sand matrix like that of lahar deposits upvalley. This unit contains irregular friable lenses and pods meters in diameter, blocks incorporated from the underlying dry and hot pyroclastic material that had been deposited only moments earlier. The hummocky unit is the deposit of a high-viscosity debris flow which formed when lahars mingled with the pyroclastic materials on Smith Creek valley floor. Overlying the debris flow are voluminous pyroclastic deposits of pebbly sand cut by fines-poor gas-escape pipes and containing charred wood. The deposits are thickest in topographic lows along margins of the hummocky diamict. Emplaced several minutes after the hot surge had passed, this is the deposit of numerous secondary pyroclastic flows derived from surge material deposited unstably on steep valley sides. ?? 1988 Springer-Verlag.
Additional publication details
Interrelations among pyroclastic surge, pyroclastic flow, and lahars in Smith Creek valley during first minutes of 18 May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, USA