The initial eruption column of May 18th, 1980 reached nearly 30 km altitude and released 1017 joules of thermal energy into the atmosphere in only a few minutes. Ascent of the cloud resulted in forced intrusion of a giant umbrella-shaped cloud between altitudes of 10 and 20 km at radial horizontal velocities initially in excess of 50 m/s. The mushroom cloud expanded 15 km upwind, forming a stagnation point where the radial expansion velocity and wind velocity were equal. The cloud was initiated when the pyroclastic blast flow became buoyant. The flow reduced its density as it moved away from the volcano by decompression, by sedimentation, and by mixing with and heating the surrounding air. Observations indicate that much of the flow, covering an area of 600 km2, became buoyant within 1.5 minutes and abruptly ascended to form the giant cloud. Calculations are presented for the amount of air that must have been entrained into the flow to make it buoyant. Assuming an initial temperature of 450??C and a magmatic origin for the explosion, these calculations indicate that the flow became buoyant when its temperature was approximately 150??C and the flow consisted of a mixture of 3.25 ?? 1011 kg of pyroclasts and 5.0 ?? 1011 kg of air. If sedimentation is considered, these figures reduce to 1.1 ?? 1011 kg of pyroclasts and 1.0 ?? 1011 kg of air. ?? 1986.
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The initial giant umbrella cloud of the May 18th, 1980, explosive eruption of Mount St. Helens