Mount St. Helens retrospective: Lessons learned since 1980 and remaining challenges

Frontiers in Earth Science



Since awakening from a 123-year repose in 1980, Mount St. Helens has provided an opportunity to study changes in crustal magma storage at an active arc volcano—a process of fundamental importance to eruption forecasting and hazards mitigation. There has been considerable progress, but important questions remain unanswered. Was the 1980 eruption triggered by an injection of magma into an upper crustal reservoir? If so, when? How did magma rise into the edifice without producing detectable seismicity deeper than ∼2.5 km or measurable surface deformation beyond the volcano’s north flank? Would precursory activity have been recognized earlier if current monitoring techniques had been available? Despite substantial improvements in monitoring capability, similar questions remain after the dome-forming eruption of 2004–2008. Did additional magma accumulate in the reservoir between the end of the 1980–1986 eruption and the start of the 2004–2008 eruption? If so, when? What is the significance of a relative lull in seismicity and surface deformation for several years prior to the 2004–2008 eruption onset? How did magma reach the surface without producing seismicity deeper than ∼2 km or measurable deformation more than a few hundred meters from the vent? Has the reservoir been replenished since the eruption ended, and is it now primed for the next eruption? What additional precursors, if any, should be expected? This paper addresses these questions, explores possible answers, and identifies unresolved issues in need of additional study. The 1980–1986 and 2004–2008 eruptions could have resulted from second boiling during crystallization of magma long-resident in an upper crustal reservoir, rather than from injection of fresh magma from below. If reservoir pressurization and magma ascent were slow enough, resulting strain might have been accommodated by viscoelastic deformation, without appreciable seismicity or surface deformation, until rising magma entered a brittle regime within 2–2.5 km of the surface. Given the remarkably gas-poor nature of the 2004–2008 dome lava, future eruptive activity might require a relatively long period of quiescence and reservoir pressurization or a large injection of fresh magma—an event that arguably has not occurred since the Kalama eruptive period (C.E. 1479–1720).

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Mount St. Helens retrospective: Lessons learned since 1980 and remaining challenges
Series title Frontiers in Earth Science
DOI 10.3389/feart.2018.00142
Volume 6
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Frontiers
Contributing office(s) Volcano Science Center
Description Article 142; 24 p.
First page 1
Last page 24
Country United States
State Washington
Other Geospatial Mount St. Helens
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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