Plate Tectonics: A whole new way of looking at your planet
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The Book  
Table of Contents
In the Beginning
The Tectonic Plates
Mount St. Helen
How Plates Move
Plate Boundaries
A Changing Earth
Pangaea - All Lands
Mid-Ocean Ridges
An Ocean is Born
The Birth of an Island
Mountain Ranges
Subduction Zones
Island Arcs
The Ring of Fire
Hot Spots
Mantle Plumes
Origin of Life Theories
Global Climate
Other Worlds
Welcome to Your World

Mount St. Helen
Mount St. Helen EruptingIn May of 1980, scientists monitoring Mount St. On May 18, 1980, in Washington state, Mt. St. Helens erupted with the force comparable to that of a hydrogen bomb. The explosion blew off 1,300 feet of the mountain's top and sent ash and debris more than 12 miles into the sky covering three states - Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Sixty two people were dead, beautiful forests and lakes were destroyed resulting in $3 billion worth of damage.

Mt. St. Helens had remained dormant for 123 years. In March of 1980 scientists recorded seismic tremors from the mountain. State officials ordered the residents of the area to evacuate and warned people not to hike in the area. However, not everyone took heed to the warnings. Harry Truman, an elderly man living near the mountain, refused to vacate his home. Within minutes of the explosion he and his home, along with other people and homes, were virtually buried in mud. Thousands of acres of timber fell over like match sticks. Lakes clogged with mud. Spirit Lake, adjacent to the mountain, turned into a mud hole and was littered with timber. The eruption caused total devastation to the land, lakes, and forests. Miles away, the city of Yakima, Washington - population of 65,000- was affected the worst.

It was a typical spring day with the birds chirping and the sun shining. However, this typical day did not last long. About 10:00 a.m. a black cloud covered the city and "snowed" ash. Neither a street light nor a neighbor's porch light could be seen as the ash was so heavy it sank swimming pool covers and caved in old roofs. Businesses and schools were closed down and all normal activity in daily life ceased to exist. Yakima was hit like a snowstorm and it looked like it from afar.

When the ash stopped coming down and the cloud clover lifted it remained gray and dreary for days. Everywhere you looked people wore surgical masks (to keep from breathing the ash in) and swept ash off their rooftops. Any movement stirred up clouds of dust. The city was a mess, but like any disaster life moves on and people cope. Yakima was only inconvenienced by huge amounts of ash and clean up, while the people and the land near the mountain suffered total death and destruction. The fatality rate for Mt. St. Helens could of been much higher if not for the evacuation orders and the advances of technology.
Mount St. Helen before and after the eruption
The resulting ash eruption rose an amazing 16 miles into the atmosphere and dropped 500 million tons of ash - enough to cover an area the size of a football field 150 miles deep with ash. Temperatures from the blast exceeded 800 degrees Fahrenheit and within minutes the devastation obliterated homes, highways and wildlife. One man who refused to leave his home on Mount St. Helen, Harry Truman, was buried under 300 feet of the new level of Spirit Lake. The fury of the Mount St. Helen blast was attributed to the complex interactions between the Pacific Plate, North American Plate, and tiny Juan de Fuca plate, an area known as a triple plate junction.
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