British explorer George Vancouver explored and charted the coasts of the Pacific Northwest between 1791 and 1795. He traveled and mapped the shores of what is now the southern coast of Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. During his expedition, he spied the snow capped peak of a towering dormant volcano reaching 9,677 feet into the deep blue sky. Honoring a dear friend of his, Vancouver named the majestic peak after British diplomat, Lord St. Helens.
In the centuries since Captain Vancouver, more and more people moved into the beautiful Pacific Northwest. The city of Seattle, Washington was founded 96 miles north of the volcano, and Portland, Oregon sprang up only 50 miles southwest of it. Thousands of people grew accustomed to seeing the snowy peak looming above the evergreen forests that surrounded it.
In March of 1980, a geologist noticed that there was an increase in small earthquakes from below the volcano. Then on March 20, there was a 4.2 magnitude quake that shook the volcano and surrounding area. A week later steam began to escape and by the end of April he noticed that there was a distinct bulge forming on the north side of the mountain. Early in May, the seismic activity seemed to diminish.
On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens was rocked by a 5.1 magnitude earthquake which caused the bulge on the north facing slope to begin to slip. Right as the bulge began to collapse; the volcano exploded and blew out the entire north face of the mountain.
The lateral blast swept out at 300 miles per hour. With temperatures as high as 660 degrees Fahrenheit and the power of 24 megatons of thermal energy, it snapped one-hundred-year-old trees like toothpicks and stripped them of their bark.
After several eruptions over the years, Mount St. Helens was reduced from a symmetrical summit of 9,0677 feet to a mountain with a huge crater yawning to the sky, standing a mere 8,365 feet high.
Before the famous eruption at Mount St. Helens, scientists were mostly familiar with slow-acting examples of geologic change. They believed that layers of sediment turning into rock took thousands and millions of years. It also took millions of years for streams and rivers to cut out deep canyons like the Grand Canyon. Barren eroded landscapes like the Badlands of the Dakotas also took millions of years of wind and weather to erode the rugged terrain.
But at Mount St. Helens, geologists watched the earth’s surface change quite rapidly.
Eruptions on May 18 and June 10 produced many feet of fine layers in only a few hours. In one instance alone, 25 feet of sediment was deposited in a single day. After later mudflows cut through the layer, it was discovered that this layer was actually thousands of thin layers all separated out from each other. Had an evolutionary geologist examined these layers after they hardened years later, they would have claimed that it took hundreds of thousands of years to deposit that 25 feet of rock, which in reality had taken less than a day. (To learn more about how rock layers form, see: How Do Rock Layers Form?).
Icebergs dislodged from the icy summit were buried in the hot avalanche material. Then they melted, creating a landscape very similar to the Badlands in just a few days.
On June 10, mudflows from the mountain cut zigzag canyons one hundred feet deep in the soft sediment laid down in May. The erosion from the mudflow was so widespread that it even carved out side canyons that ran perpendicular to the main canyon, creating a miniature version 1/40th the scale of the Grand Canyon in only a day.
Over the following decade, more mudflows off the mountain cut channels and canyons in solid rock. (To learn more about how canyons form, see: How Do Canyons Form?).
The blast from the original eruption was so powerful that it leveled tall trees for miles around. Many of these trees were blown and washed into Spirit Lake, forming a log mat on the surface. It didn’t take long for the bark from the trees to form a three foot thick layer of peat on the bottom of the lake. (Peat is the early form of coal and to learn more about coal formation see: How Long Does it Take Coal to Form?).
Many of the logs floating on Spirit Lake became water logged and started floating vertically like a fishing bobber. As each one became more and more waterlogged they sank to the bottom. Since they sank at different times, the bottoms of the logs became buried at different depths in the mud, ash and peat bottom. This was significant to learn since it resembled Yellowstone’s Fossil Forest which is also a collection of petrified log with no roots buried upright at different depths in volcanic ash layers. Scientist have long believed this Fossil Forest was evidence showing millions of years of one forest growing on top of another after subsequent burials from volcanic eruptions.
Even though Mount St. Helens is a very small catastrophe compared to the Genesis Flood, or the major catastrophes that occurred for a century or so afterwards, it provides a better clue to a number of geologic and geographic features we see in the world today.
Over 25 feet of finely layered sediment laid down in hours, not millions of years.
Badlands type terrain formed in days by glacial ice being buried in hot ash.
Canyons and side canyons 1/40th the scale of the Grand Canyon carved into soft sediment and solid rock in a matter of days.
Layers of peat forming in a few years from a floating log mat.
Upright trees buried at different depths in a matter of a few years, similar to Yellowstone’s Fossil Forest.
Though the eruption of Mount St Helens was a relatively small eruption as volcanic eruptions go, it has been a huge eye opener to many scientists, both creationists and evolutionists as to how fast the surface of our planet can change. Ever since the 1800’s, secular geologists have been saying that the present is the key to the past. In the case of Mount St Helens, that is so true.
Young Tyler Cray has been looking forward to going on vacation to the Canyon for such a long time! When he finally arrives the sight of it is far more splendid than he imagined. He learns much about this incredible, scenic place (including some terrific faith-building, scientific information).