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Remembering the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens

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On the morning of May 18, 1980, the United States witnessed one of its most violent and destructive eruptions in recorded history. After an unexpected 5.1 earthquake in the state of Washington that triggered the largest avalanche in history, Mount St. Helens released its destructive magma and suffocating ashes, proving itself that it is a volcano worth to be frightened for in the Cascade Range, a succession of mountains that is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Two months prior to the eruption though, the sleeping volcano caused small yet erratic trembling on land. Days later, its mouth spewed out steams of ashes. Later on, earthquakes in the area were felt more frequently and a huge protuberance roughly 450 feet even grew along the volcano's northern flank. Every sign showed that Mount St. Helens was slowly awakening from its deep slumber and it is about to throw up huge volumes of magma before long.

Then on the fateful day, approximately 80,000-feet of ash plume ascended to the sky while very hot pyroclastic flows wiped out every living thing on its path at 50 to 80 miles per hour. For the next nine hours, it seemed like an endless tragedy for the locals residing near Mount St. Helens. Infrastructures from houses and buildings to bridges and highways, were burned and buried in deep lava mixed with snow, making it one of the costliest blows to the country.

It was an arduous devastation for the residents of Skamania County, Washington. A total of 57 human lives were lost and roughly 7,000 big game animals and plant life were taken by the volcano's havoc. For the next years after the major eruption, Mount St. Helens continues to make its presence felt. Even today.

While previous reports revealed that the volcano is showing signs of an impending eruption, scientists have assured that it would not be anytime soon. However, on the 34th anniversary of Mount St. Helens' 1980 eruption, the volcano is, in fact, confirmed to be bound for another flare-up. This time though, the impending explosion would be brought by some curious scientists.

In order for them to learn more about the volcanic activities of Mount St. Helens, scientists are currently working on drilling and explosive techniques derived from oil industries. They wanted to precisely determine how St. Helen's magma from 60 miles below makes its way to the crater. Explosive charges would be buried in two dozen wells about 80 feet deep situated around the mountain after which thousands of portable seismometers would be recording the amount of energy the explosions generated.

"We've been looking at what's beneath the volcano through very fuzzy glasses," said seismicity expert Seth Moran of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cascade Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington. "This still won't give us anything like 20/20 vision, but it should make things quite a bit clearer."

The one-million dollar explosive research is part of the $3-million project funded largely by the National Science Foundation. The research team leading the study is from Rice University with Alan Levander at the helm.

The study also aims to learn the magnetic and electrical properties of rocks underneath, a useful guide to identify magma that is formed in the "subduction zone" of the Cascade, which is said to produce terrifying magnitude-nine quakes should the Juan de Fuca and North America tectonic plates either slip or break.

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