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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More