Ecological Responses to the 1980 Eruption of Mount St. Helens

pp 27-44

Physical Events, Environments, and Geological—Ecological Interactions at Mount St. Helens: March 1980–2004

  • Frederick J. SwansonAffiliated with
  • , Jon J. MajorAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey, CascadesVolcano Observatory

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The diversity and intensity of volcanic processes during the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens affected a variety of ecosystems over a broad area and created an exceptional opportunity to study interactions of geophysical and ecological processes in dynamic landscapes. Within a few hours on the morning of May 18, 1980, a major explosive eruption of Mount St. Helens affected thousands of square kilometers by releasing a massive debris avalanche, a laterally directed volcanic blast, mudflows, pyroclastic flows, and widespread tephra fall (see Figure 1.1; Figures 3.1, 3.2; Table 3.1). These primary physical events killed organisms, removed or buried organic material and soil, and created new terrestrial and aquatic habitats. Despite these profound environmental changes, important legacies of predisturbance ecosystems, including live organisms, propagules, and organic and physical structures, persisted across much of the affected landscape. The physical characteristics of the volcanic processes (elevated temperature, impact force, abrasion, and depth of erosion and burial) in part determined the extent of mortality and the types and significance of biotic legacies in the posteruption landscape.