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11 Surprising Natural Lessons from Mount St. Helens

What have scientists learned from 30 years of research and rebirth in the blast zone?

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LARGER LESSONS:

"Whenever there is a big catastrophe, such as a forest fire, society's impulse is to do two things: salvage any remaining economic value--much of the wood is often still good--and help it on its way to recovery by replanting," says Bishop.....[ More ]

TROUBLED TOUTLE:

On May 18, 1980, the former peak of Mount St. Helens buried the neighboring Toutle River Valley in hundreds of feet of debris. Three decades later, trouble continues to run through the valley. Huge volumes of sediment are driven downstream by rainstorms and snowmelt, choking rivers, obstructing fish migration and promoting floods.....[ More ]

THE HEAT IS ON:

Thermal cameras were essential in tracking the reawakening of Mount St. Helens between 2004 and 2008. The devices can detect the growth of lava domes, as well as the development of cracks in places where the dome might be breaking apart.....[ More ]

'SMART SPIDERS':

Before 1980, one lone seismometer rested on Mount St. Helens. "We've gotten much smarter since," says Scott of the USGS. Today, scientists have an array of constantly improving technologies that should help them better forecast future eruptions.....[ More ]

RAINING SPIDERS:

In the first several years after the eruption, more than 120 species of spiders, including this one, Lepthyphantes tenuis , rained out of the sky and onto the devastated Pumice Plain. Some of these new immigrants had traveled by wind more than 60 miles.....[ More ]

LIFE IN TRANSITION:

A forest may not be nearly as bleak as it looks following a major eruption, windstorm, insect infestation or fire. In fact, researchers now think that the resulting ecosystem often becomes highly productive, bustling with survivors, opportunists and habitat specialists.....[ More ]

LEAPING LUPINE:

One particular species of plant quickly became the building block for much of the renewed flora and fauna around Mount St. Helens. On a stretch of the volcano known as Pumice Plain, where life essentially had to start from scratch, tens of millions of lupines pushed their way up through the ash.....[ More ]

LOST AND FOUND:

Animals that relied on Mount St. Helens's former stands of old-growth forests, such as the northern spotted owl, may not be returning to the volcanic region for a while. But elk, rainbow trout and an array of birds have rebounded in astonishing numbers.....[ More ]

SURVIVAL OF THE DEEPEST:

While most of the life above ground perished in the eruption, some organisms that were protected underground, underwater or in snowbanks endured. Two new lakes and 130 new ponds built by the blast even offered surviving amphibians like this northwestern salamander bonus habitats in which to thrive.....[ More ]

AIRBORNE ASH:

Despite the mess, the situation in the skies could have been far worse, notes William Scott, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Unlike in the aftermath of Eyjafjallajokull's recent eruption in Iceland, there was no widespread grounding of air traffic.....[ More ]

SHADES OF GRAY:

After Mount St. Helens's peak broke off into the largest terrestrial landslide in recorded history, 540 million tons of ash began shooting up into the air--reaching as high as 15 miles above Earth. Winds then carried clouds of the volcanic particles across the western U.S., darkening skies and cooling temperatures.....[ More ]

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