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
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid