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Mount St. Helens
Pacific Northwest Research Station

333 SW First Avenue
Portland, OR 97204

(503) 808-2592

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Applications of Mount St. Helens Research

PNW Research Station scientists’ key research findings and expertise—stemming from 30 years of research at Mount St. Helens—are in demand in other volcanically active regions of the world, including Chile and Alaska.

 

Chaitén Volcano, Chile
Kasatochi Volcano, Alaska

 

In their applications of Mount St. Helens findings to other disturbed landscapes, station scientists share their insights on conducting long-term volcanology research, including:

  • The importance of establishing well-integrated, long-term, multidisciplinary studies.
  • The need for a research design that includes study plots arrayed along disturbance gradients and different ecosystem types.
  • The value of establishing a research environment that fosters open sharing of ideas and information.


Chaitén Volcano, Chile

In May 2009, the Pacific Northwest Research Station’s Charlie Crisafulli and Fred Swanson traveled to Chile at the request of Chilean academics and government officials. They were asked to establish a study to compare the ecological responses to the eruption of Chaitén—a 3,681-foot-tall caldera volcano that erupted 10 months earlier, on May 2, 2008—with those observed in the intensively studied Mount St. Helens landscape.


Like Mount St. Helens, the Chaitén landscape is dominated by a temperate rain forest with long-lived species, steep topography, and a maritime climate. The Chilean volcano’s eruption also shared similarities with Mount St. Helens’ 1980 event—including a lateral blast, tephra fall, lahars, and high levels of water and sediment runoff.


The two scientists returned to Chile in January 2010 to continue their observations and to provide assistance in building capacity for long-term volcano ecology research.

 

Browse the images below for a photo essay of the researchers’ May 2009 visit.
[Caption text from Fred’s blog submission]

 

Figure 1 Caption: Remote sensing image that shows the locations of photo essay images (numbered), Chaitén Volcano (CV) and town (CT), and Minchinmávida volcano (M) with its extensive ice cap. Note that rivers on the north, east, and south sides of Chaitén drain from Minchinmávida; Chaitén’s relatively diminutive stature (ca. 1000 m before the 2008 eruption) precludes generation of massive, long-runout lahars. Tephrafall east of the volcano has caused browning of foliage of the forest, especially on upper slopes. The blast-affected area on the northwest flank of the volcano has a sharp boundary with green forest vegetation. (Source: International Space Station, Feb 24, 2009; astronaut photograph ISS018-E-35716)

Figure 1—Remote sensing image that shows the locations of photo essay images (numbered), Chaitén Volcano (CV) and town (CT), and Minchinmávida volcano (M) with its extensive ice cap. Note that rivers on the north, east, and south sides of Chaitén drain from Minchinmávida; Chaitén’s relatively diminutive stature (ca. 1000 m before the 2008 eruption) precludes generation of massive, long-runout lahars. Tephrafall east of the volcano has caused browning of foliage of the forest, especially on upper slopes. The blast-affected area on the northwest flank of the volcano has a sharp boundary with green forest vegetation. (Source: International Space Station, Feb 24, 2009; astronaut photograph ISS018-E-35716)

 

Figure 2 Caption: View from above Chaitén Volcano’s vent toward the northwest in May 2008, several weeks after the eruption. The Rio Rayas flows to the west across the top of the photo. Blast-toppled forest is in the near-ground, fringed by a narrow zone of scorched canopy and then the live forest in the upper half of the photo. National Highway 7 crosses the image. Numbers indicate photo essay image location; arrows indicate direction of photo view in subsequent images (3, 4, and 7). (Source: A. Lockhart, U.S. Geological Survey)

Figure 2—View from above Chaitén Volcano’s vent toward the northwest in May 2008, several weeks after the eruption. The Rio Rayas flows to the west across the top of the photo. Blast-toppled forest is in the near-ground, fringed by a narrow zone of scorched canopy and then the live forest in the upper half of the photo. National Highway 7 crosses the image. Numbers indicate photo essay image location; arrows indicate direction of photo view in subsequent images (3, 4, and 7). (Source: A. Lockhart, U.S. Geological Survey)

 

Figure 3 Caption: Blast-toppled forest on northwest flank of Chaitén. In this view, trees are toppled from right (the vent) to left. Standing, blast-killed forest is in the distance on left side of image. Surviving fern plants (green) resprout from perennial rootstocks. (Source: C. Crisafulli, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station)

Figure 3—Blast-toppled forest on northwest flank of Chaitén. In this view, trees are toppled from right (the vent) to left. Standing, blast-killed forest is in the distance on left side of image. Surviving fern plants (green) resprout from perennial rootstocks. (Source: C. Crisafulli, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station)

 

Figure 4 Caption: Blast-killed forest at the boundary between the toppled-forest zone (in distance toward the volcano) and the standing dead zone. Small patches of sprouting ferns are in the middle distance to right of camera. (Source: copyright N. La Penna, Chaitur Excursiones, Chaitén X Region, Chile)

Figure 4—Blast-killed forest at the boundary between the toppled-forest zone (in distance toward the volcano) and the standing dead zone. Small patches of sprouting ferns are in the middle distance to right of camera. (Source: copyright N. La Penna, Chaitur Excursiones, Chaitén X Region, Chile)

 

Figure 5 Caption: Tephra-fall zone with approximately 20 cm (~ 8 inches) of tephra deposition (as of March 2009) 30 km (~ 18 miles) downwind from the vent. Note the surviving trees, but large amount of limb debris and tree tops dropped by the weight of tephra in the canopy. (Source: F. Swanson, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station)

Figure 5—Tephra-fall zone with approximately 20 cm (about 8 inches) of tephra deposition (as of March 2009) 30 km (~ 18 miles) downwind from the vent. Note the surviving trees, but large amount of limb debris and tree tops dropped by the weight of tephra in the canopy. (Source: F. Swanson, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station)

 

Figure 6 Caption: Rio Rayas looking downstream from the Highway 7 bridge. Aggregations of logs freshly deposited along the channel margin suggest major, post-eruption flooding, influenced, in part, by rapid runoff from slopes blanketed by very fine-grained tephra in the source watershed. The forest to the right (north) appears to have been killed by the scorching heat of the blast. (Source: F. Swanson, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station)

Figure 6—Rio Rayas looking downstream from the Highway 7 bridge. Aggregations of logs freshly deposited along the channel margin suggest major, post-eruption flooding, influenced, in part, by rapid runoff from slopes blanketed by very fine-grained tephra in the source watershed. The forest to the right (north) appears to have been killed by the scorching heat of the blast. (Source: F. Swanson, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station)

 

Figure 7 Caption: Rio Gigios looking upstream from Highway 7 bridge toward the rim of Chaitén’s caldera in the distance. Blast-scorched, standing-dead forest occupies the adjacent banks, and toppled forest covers hillslopes in the distance. The channel in the foreground was modified first by high runoff and, perhaps, debris flows from the mountain side and then by heavy equipment in an attempt to sustain the bridge. (Source: J. Jones, Oregon State University)

Figure 7—Rio Gigios looking upstream from Highway 7 bridge toward the rim of Chaitén’s caldera in the distance. Blast-scorched, standing-dead forest occupies the adjacent banks, and toppled forest covers hillslopes in the distance. The channel in the foreground was modified first by high runoff and, perhaps, debris flows from the mountain side and then by heavy equipment in an attempt to sustain the bridge. (Source: J. Jones, Oregon State University)

 

Figure 8: Rio Blanco (also called Rio Chaitén) on the bridge into Chaitén town looking north to the steaming domes of Chaitén volcano 10 km (~ 6 miles) away. Lahars, floods, and pyroclastic flows have altered the channel and killed floodplain vegetation. The river heads at glaciers of Minchinmávida, and the watershed drains a zone of thick tephra deposition. Tephra fall into the forest canopy to the right (east) has killed foliage in upper slope forests. (Source: C. Crisafulli, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station)

Figure 8—Rio Blanco (also called Rio Chaitén) on the bridge into Chaitén town looking north to the steaming domes of Chaitén volcano 10 km (about 6 miles) away. Lahars, floods, and pyroclastic flows have altered the channel and killed flood-plain vegetation. The river heads at glaciers of Minchinmávida, and the watershed drains a zone of thick tephra deposition. Tephra fall into the forest canopy to the right (east) has killed foliage in upper slope forests. (Source: C. Crisafulli, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station)

 

Figure 9 Caption: Rio Amarillo (at the town of Amarillo) flowing from Minchinmávida, its icecap, and an extensive forested landscape with tens of centimeters of tephrafall. The far bank exposes deposits of lahar, fluvial, and pyroclastic flow origin, including large pieces of wood, recording aspects of the history of Minchinmávida. March 27, 2009. (photo: F. Swanson)

Figure 9—Rio Amarillo (at the town of Amarillo) flowing from Minchinmávida, its icecap, and an extensive forested landscape with tens of centimeters of tephrafall. The far bank exposes deposits of lahar, fluvial, and pyroclastic flow origin, including large pieces of wood, recording aspects of the history of Minchinmávida. March 27, 2009. (photo: F. Swanson)

 

Figure 10 Caption: A tributary to Rio Amarillo draining a watershed with substantial tehprafall. Floodplain forest appears to have been killed by deposition of sediment (mainly fluvially transported tephra) and associated rise of the water table. (photo: J. Jones)

Figure 10—A tributary to Rio Amarillo draining a watershed with substantial tehprafall. Flood-plain forest appears to have been killed by deposition of sediment (mainly fluvially transported tephra) and associated rise of the water table. (photo: J. Jones)

 

Kasatochi Volcano, Alaska

In 2008, Kasatochi Volcano, a small Aleutian island in the Bering Sea in southwestern Alaska, erupted. Officials from the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requested the assistance of PNW Research Station’s Charlie Crisafulli to help develop plans for long-term study of the ecological response to the disturbance.


Unlike Chile’s Chaitén Volcano, which shares numerous similarities with Mount St. Helens, Kasatochi is a dramatic contrast. Conditions on the remote island are extremely harsh, its growing season is very short, it is surrounded by a cold ocean, and it lacks a nearby mainland for animal and plant colonization.

USDA Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station - Mount St. Helens
Last Modified: Thursday, 28 March 2013 at 14:15:26 CDT


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