When a volcano blows its top

There’s a rather impressive video clip making the rounds showing Mount Tavurvur, a volcano in Papua New Guinea, erupting suddenly on August 29th, 2014.

You can read more about the eruption here.

What I found intriguing about that video clip is the insight it provides into the much bigger incident at Mount St. Helens in Washington state during its 1980 eruption.  It was on a much larger scale (sparked by what Wikipedia calls ‘the largest landslide ever recorded‘) but displayed the same sudden explosive release of pressure.  Here’s a video clip analyzing the only photographs of that eruption, putting them together in a time-lapse display.

Looking at that time-lapse video, and comparing it to the much smaller explosion at Mount Tarvurvur, one can imagine how very suddenly events unfolded at Mount St. Helens and why the damage spread so far, so quickly.  It somehow makes the events of 1980 more real to me.



  1. My aunt (now deceased) lived in Sunnyside Washington, which is at the southeast corner of Washington state. For some weeks, the ash from Mount St. Helens blanketed the ground, making it a very surreal living experience. Her description sounded quite a bit of what a 'nuclear winter' event would be.

    The video does look pretty impressive – Mother Nature makes human being WMDs look like the work of amateurs.

  2. We were living in the Seattle area when it happened. The economic impact lasted for at least two years. We had seven skylight contracts worth $180,000 cancelled because the building weren't built.

  3. I was at PSNS, living at Bangor barracks at the time, boat in OVHL. Looked like 4 inches of dirty snow everywhere. A lot of new engine repairs and paint on shipmates cars, for many months.

  4. One of my Uncle's was living near there at the time.

    He said they knew it blew just from the sound and the ground shaking.

    Somewhere around here I still have a coffee can full of the ash, and several pumice balls the size of baseballs that he picked up out of his yard and sent to me.

  5. I was born and raised just north of Vancouver, Washington, about 30 miles away from the crater. It was good news for us that the blast went NORTH, because we were just to the southwest. I remember looking out the window and thinking, “Well, that’s bigger than all the ones we’ve seen so far!”

    The whole process didn’t take as long as I remembered as a 13 year old kid. The earthquakes and venting hadn’t even been going on for two months when it had the big May 18 blast. We used to listen to David Johnston, the USGS spokesman and geologist give daily updates on the status of the bulge, the crater and the vent. Then, at 8:32 AM on May, 18, David Johnston gave a short, excited broadcast via shortwave, "Vancouver, Vancouver, This is it! This is it!" He was about 5 miles north. His remains have never been found, but you can visit the Johnston Ridge Observatory not far from where they ultimately found the remains of his truck.

    57 dead, ¼ of a MILE taken off the top of the mountain, almost 1 cubic mile of mountain involved in, “The biggest landslide on record.” It completely flattened 230 square miles of all buildings and vegetation, 4 MILLION cubic yards of pyroclastic mudflow dumped into the Columbia river, wiping out shipping, bridges, ports, etc., It knocked down enough timber to build every house in Portland, and most of the commercial buildings besides. The destructive force was roughly equivalent to a 24 Megaton blast, or about the same as 700 Hiroshima bombs. And, historically, Rainier outside of Seattle is even more likely to do the same someday. Gosh, I wonder what formative events in my life led me to a propensity towards prepping?


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