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May 18th - 40 years since the eruption of Mount St. Helens


This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Mount St. Helens eruption. On May 18th, 1980, a 5.1-magnitude earthquake struck Mount St. Helens. This triggered a landslide on the north side of the mountain, and in turn, a huge air blast shot up ash, stone, and other superheated material into the sky. Pyroclastic flows filled with ash, lava, and gas made their way down the mountain and enveloped the valleys below. Everything within a 200-square mile area was decimated, and the ecosystem was changed forever. In total, 57 people and thousands of animals were killed. 

Over the last forty years, Mount St. Helens has remained relatively active. Small explosions occurred throughout the '80s and '90s, and it erupted yet again in 2004, albeit on a much smaller scale. Although the 1980 eruption caused such devastation, it opened the door to rare scientific research opportunities and many breakthroughs in volcanism and geology. The eruptions were big lessons in community preparedness and emergency response. One member of our team remembers being in middle school during the 2004 eruptions: drills increased and classrooms stocked up on masks in case of ash fall. Students learned how to check for local alerts and keep their families informed. Just as we are experiencing now, schools played a central role in community preparedness and response, modeling preparedness actions and were essential sources of information vital for the community's response. Emergency preparedness includes preparing for increased waste created by disasters, as well as preparing our solid waste system to continue operations during challenging times. We are proud of the resilience our community showed in 1980, and now during the coronavirus pandemic. In celebration of that resiliency and preparedness, we've compiled resources for you to learn about Mount St. Helens and what its eruptions have taught us.

Explore Mount St. Helens History and Science 

In commemorating the 40th anniversary, there are many organizations sharing resources to take a deeper dive into the history and science of Mount St. Helens. Here are just a few of our favorite activities and resources you can check out from the comfort of your own home.

Mount St. Helens Institute 

The Mount St. Helens Institute provides videos and activities for learners of all ages to discover and explore the volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest. They created a fun Mount St. Helens bingo game with activities ranging from smelling a flower to looking at USGS Hazard Maps to determine if you live in a volcanic hazard zone. Complete a bingo and you could be featured on their social media! They also collaborated with Bill Nye the Science Guy and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe for a Facebook Live event on Saturday, May 16th at 6 PM where Bill Nye will be talking about the eruption. 

Check out their website here

Gifford Pinchot National Forest 

Join the Gifford Pinchot National Forest as they mark the 40th anniversary of the Mount St. Helens eruption. They have educational videos, history tours, and interactive presentations. Be sure to check out their Facebook page for additional information and events.

Find their website here

Check out their Facebook page here

Mount St. Helens Science and Learning Center 

Become an amateur volcanologist with The Mount St. Helens Science and Learning Center! They are offering a geology class where students will learn how to use data to reveal what is happening inside a volcano and forecast an eruption. These lessons meet Next Generation Science Standards too. How cool is that?

Check it out here

May 18th events

Week of May 18th: Learn from Home: US Geological Survey's Youth and Education Service

May 18, at 1:00 PM - Mission Debrief: Earthquakes and Volcanoes, hosted by Smithsonian. Bring your questions about the science behind volcanoes and earthquakes.

May 18, 6:00 PM – 8:30 PM, Mount St. Helens Virtual Story Hour w/Washington State Parks

May 18, 6:30-8:30 PM, OMSI Virtual Science Pub: Mount St. Helens rocked our world!

May 18, 6:30 PM , Mount St. Helens and the Cascade Range Volcanoes, followed by live audience Q&A at 8:00pm with Pacific Northwest Seismic Network

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