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Small explosions interrupt 3-year quiescence at Mount St. Helens, Washington

January 1, 1992

On December 11, 1989, geologists working in the crater at Mount St. Helens discovered two thin layers of ash separated by fresh snow-clear evidence that at least two small explosions had occurred recently. The explosions were neither seen nor heard, but on December 7 scientists suspected that a small ash-producing explosion had occurred when seismometers near the volcano recorded a long explosion-like signal, and titlt and displacement meters showed minor deformation of the dome. There were no other large seismic signals to account for the second ash layer, which was most likely associated with one of several smaller signals in early December. The December ash-producing explosions were the first eruptive activity at Mount St. Helens since October 1986. 

There have been at least five more ash-producing explosions since December 1989, all without recognized seismic or other geophysical precursors. The ash from these explosions appears to be pulverized pieces of dacite dome. The absence of glass shards in the ash suggests that no new magmatic material was ejected. Several of the explosions were accompanied by snow and rock avalanches, pyroclastic flows, ballistic showers, and debris flows. 

These ash-producing explosions are part of a series of at least 28 explosion-like seismic events that began on August 24, 989. Seismic signals from these events resemble those associated with confirmed ash-producing explosions in April-May 1986. Yet not all of the 1989-1991 events produced ash plumes. Excellent visual observations during four of the events indicated that neither a steam nor ash plume was generated. There is little information about the other events because they occurred when the mountain was not visible, nor was there physical evidence of ashfall or surface changes when scientists visited the crater days to weeks alter. Considerable deformation of the north side of the dome occurred during the series of explosion-like seismic events. Sections of the dome slumped northward and two new vents were formed. However, monitoring the changes associated with individual events was often impossible because several key electronic-distance-meter (EDM) targets and tiltmeters were destroyed by the series of events. 

Publication Year 1992
Title Small explosions interrupt 3-year quiescence at Mount St. Helens, Washington
Authors B. Myers
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Earthquakes & Volcanoes (USGS)
Index ID 70168555
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse