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In the News

The 37th anniversary of the Mount St Helens' eruption in the USA - has the site recovered?

Andy Day

18th May 2017

It was on this day 37 years ago that Mt St Helens in Washington State erupted with such devastating consequences. Fifty seven people lost their lives but the impact could have been greater had it not been in such a sparsely populated area. What occurred, and what has happened since?

The eruption of Mt St Helens dominated the world's news media for days; these things just didn't happen in the USA. But it did - and with consequences that are still being observed. The lateral explosion of force devastated huge areas of forest, lakes and rivers as well as the ecosystems occupying them. This article by the Oregon state based website, has video footage of the aftermath, as well as time-sequence stills of the eruption and diagrams of the causes.

One of the most interesting subsequent developments for ecologists has been the gradual recolonisation of the devastating ash and mud debris by plants and animals in the decades since. In ecosystem terms this is a secondary succession on a surface scoured of pre-existing habitat, but suitable for rapid emergence of a subsere and subsequent seral stages. The final link in the K5 article connects to this eye-catching time-sequence by NASA's Earth Observatory as the region around the volcano has re-vegetated over the last 36 years.

Not forgetting, in all this, that both residents, tourists and scientists observing the changing fortunes of the mountain, lost their lives in an asphyxiating ash wave

Andy Day

Andy recently finished being a classroom geographer after 35 years at two schools in East Yorkshire as head of geography, head of the humanities faculty and director of the humanities specialism. He has written extensively about teaching and geography - with articles in the TES, Geography GCSE Wideworld and Teaching Geography.

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