Devastation And Recovery

  • Released Tuesday, March 27, 2012

After two months of geologic volatility, an earthquake on May 18, 1980, triggered the northern flank of Mount St. Helens to collapse, sending an enormous avalanche of debris crashing toward the North Fork Toutle River in southwest Washington. Like a bottle of champagne shattering as it's uncorked, hot rocks, ash, gas and steam exploded from the volcano, obliterating the forested landscape to the north. The velocity of the blast exceeded speeds of 670 miles per hour, shearing trees at their trunks up to 19 miles away. The video below, based on images captured by USGS-NASA Landsat satellites between 1979 and 2011, documents the scale of the devastation and the surrounding vegetation's slow road to recovery. Some finer details aren't visible from space, so scientists have closely monitored the aftermath from the ground, as seen in photos taken from the USGS archive included in the media gallery.

This aerial photo, taken the day after the eruption, shows the remains of once-lush forests around Spirit Lake.

This aerial photo, taken the day after the eruption, shows the remains of once-lush forests around Spirit Lake.

Fireweed, seen in this 1984 photo, was one of the first plants to return to the area. In the background, floating debris covers Spirit Lake.

Fireweed, seen in this 1984 photo, was one of the first plants to return to the area. In the background, floating debris covers Spirit Lake.

By 2005, regrowth could be seen throughout the main channel carved by the avalanche and eruption.

By 2005, regrowth could be seen throughout the main channel carved by the avalanche and eruption.

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Credits

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA Earth Observatory
Photos courtesy of USGS: Mount St. Helens, Washington Regrowth and Recovery Images 1980-Current

Release date

This page was originally published on Tuesday, March 27, 2012.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at 1:53 PM EDT.