PULLMAN, Wash. – Within hours of the powerful eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, the campus of Washington State University began to be covered with volcanic ash. The small particles of ash were made of glass, making masks, goggles, and other protective clothing a necessity to travel. Classes were cancelled and people around Pullman did what they could do to cleanup.
Professor John Wolff, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said an eruption of the volcano had been expected to go straight up, not to the side. He said the landslide that triggered the eruption opened up whole new areas of research into the study of eruptions and their causes.
“The landslide was triggered by an earthquake at a shallow depth beneath the volcano, the…magma has been bulging up inside the volcano, the landslide took away the side of the volcano, and literally exposed the magma chamber to the surface” said Wolff.
Wolff said the 1980 eruption was not a particularly large event when compared to other geologic events in the world, but the eruption did make people more aware about their geological surroundings. 
In fact, Professor David Gaylord, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said more people became fascinated with the volcano and came to WSU to study the science of volcanoes, a trend that continues today.
While the volcano eruption may have been devastating, Gaylord said the eruption and ash are part of a recycling system of the earth.
“It is that raw material from which we have generated these very rich agricultural soils over the last couple of million years, so it’s the basis for our economy, it’s the basis for our life here on the Palouse” said Gaylord.
Using other volcanoes in the Cascade Range and around the world as reference, Wolff said the continuing activity on Mount St. Helens will rebuild the collapsed dome.  
“Eventually a new cone will develop and the 1980 crater will just be a tiny subtle collar around the base of that new cone,” Wolff said.

Meanwhile, the Northwest’s most active volcano will continue to provide extraordinary opportunities for scientists to learn more about the powerful forces that reside beneath the surface of the earth.
Using sensor software written by a team of researchers at WSU, a dozen high-tech robotic pods forming a network built to operate in hostile environments are currently being used in hot spots inside and around the crater of Mt. St. Helens.

WSU’s role in the monitoring effort is led by WenZhan Song, assistant professor in the School of Engineering and Computer Science and director of the Sensorweb Research Laboratory at WSU Vancouver, who recently received a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER award to build networks of sensors that work reliably in harsh environments.

Built to operate in extreme temperatures and in treacherous terrain, the so-called “spider” network forms a virtual wireless network of pods that are in communication with each other and the Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite, operated by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md.

The research project is part of a NASA plan to develop a sensor web to provide timely data and analyses for scientific research, natural hazard mitigation and the exploration of other planets in this solar system and beyond. It reflects the work of a team of engineers, students, volcanologists and geologists that includes the U.S. Geological Survey staff at the Cascades Volcano Observatory who designed and built the spider network’s hardware; WSU, where the sensor software to make the spider network smart, self-organizing and self-healing was written; and NASA, which developed software to make the spiders able to detect events to trigger space observations by satellite.

Note to Producers/Assignment Editors:
Both Gaylord and Wolff are available to speak with media about the eruption and the impacts it had and still has on the Pacific Northwest.

SOT’s from Wolff and Gaylord, as well as B-Roll of the WSU Campus and Pullman from May 1980, showing ash and clean-up efforts following the eruption, is available for download at

Please courtesy Murrow College of Communication.  Formats for television include .avi, .mov, .mp4, .flv.  Right-click to download to local machine. NOT for viewing in browser!

Information on WSU Vancouver’s Sensorweb Research Laboratory is available online at http://sensorweb.vancouver.wsu.edu/news.html.

Information on the WSU GeoAnalytical Lab has been providing analyses of rocks and minerals to the geologic research community since 1978 and now analyses volcanic ash from Mt. Redoubt and other major volcanoes internationally for the FAA, is available online at  http://wsm.wsu.edu/s/index.php?id=306.