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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs