News / USA

30 Years After Deadly Eruption, Mount St. Helens Flourishes

Volcano's aftermath amazes scientists

Regrowth in the Mount St. Helens blast zone
Regrowth in the Mount St. Helens blast zone

Multimedia

Audio
Tom Banse

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens in Washington State erupted with a force that killed 57 people, destroyed 52,000 hectares of forest, and sent an ash plume so high it circled the globe. Now, three decades later, the blast zone is once again teeming with life, amazing scientists.

Peter Frenzen was a university student when the mountain blew. In Seattle, 150 kilometers from the volcano, he watched the devastation unfold on TV. Today, Frenzen is the staff scientist for the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. The park preserves portions of the blast zone for scientific studies. Other parts are open for public recreation.

From charred landscape to new life

Bucolic trails wind through the once charred landscape surrounding Mount St. Helens. Tall alders grow around ponds that weren't here before. Multitudes of frogs and salamanders will appear soon as it warms up. Elk hoof prints cross the way. Willows and lupines sprout on exposed hillsides.

"The change has been amazing," Frenzen says. "And one of things that we've learned here at Mount St. Helens is that things that initially look dead are usually anything but dead. Those things that look messy to our eye are in fact the critical ingredients of the next thriving ecosystem.

Monument scientist Peter Frenzen examines a tiny lupine poking through the moss in the blast zone.
Monument scientist Peter Frenzen examines a tiny lupine poking through the moss in the blast zone.

Like Frenzen, Washington State University botanist John Bishop has also spent much of his professional career in the blast zone.

"What we've realized as we've spent a lot of time here and we've quantified the plants and the animals is that we actually have extraordinary levels of diversity here, of biological diversity," says Bishop.

There is more richness around the volcano now, in fact, than in an old growth forest. The patchy jumble of habitats has become a stronghold for critters otherwise in decline such as elk, the yellow warbler and Western toad.

Letting nature take its course

Bishop suggests there are lessons to be learned from watching nature take its course.

"This recognition might lead us to be more careful as we decide what to do with disturbed areas," he says. "So it could be applied to areas that have experienced large forest fires, for example."

Scientists are amazed that the once-charred area around Mount St. Helens is new teeming with life.
Scientists are amazed that the once-charred area around Mount St. Helens is new teeming with life.

Frenzen admits it's not as productive in terms of lumber or other material. "But in terms of the animals and plants out here, it's fundamentally more productive in terms of the diversity of the ecosystem that results."

He says the human tendency is to rush in and restore or replant things. But after watching the developments on the slopes of Mount St. Helens, he and his colleagues have become believers in letting nature run its course, at least some of the time.

Wider implications


Forest Service researcher Charlie Chrisafulli and seven other scientists published a journal article to that effect this spring. It's the latest in a flurry of recent papers that try to draw wider implications from the explosion of new life at the volcano.

In addition to recovery after wildfires, Chrisafulli sees applications for other restoration situations. "Areas that were inundated following tsunamis, or from windstorms and ice storms and even from harvesting practices or strip mines."

In fact, Chrisafulli says U.S. mining industry consultants called him recently for ideas about restoring the scraped, barren landscape around closed strip mines.

He told them to plant lupines because those flowers have done such a good job of creating new soil at the volcano.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid