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What have scientists learned since Mount St. Helens erupted?

PORTLAND, Ore. December 7, 2004. When Mount St. Helen's blew its top in 1980, Charlie Crisafulli was 22 years old and just beginning his career as a research ecologist. One of his first assignments: travel to Mount St. Helens 2 months after the historic eruption and study the aftermath.

Crisafulli and his colleagues traveled by helicopter into the volcanic disturbance zones to gather ecological data. Crisafulli, a scientist at the USDA Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station, spent the next 25 years analyzing data that enabled him to produce long-term data sets to use to study the ecological patterns and processes of species survival and colonization. He observed the development of ecological relationships across the volcanic landscape. Fast forward to October 2, 2004.

"We flew a boat in by helicopter to Spirit Lake just 2 days before the October 4, 2004, eruptions to characterize the chemical, physical, and biological conditions of the lake," says Crisafulli. "We surveyed more than 100 ponds for amphibians and aquatic invertebrates, and live-small mammals at 14 sites right in front of the crater. Unlike in 1980, when we had very little pre-eruption data, we now have a broad network of established plots and lots of data on hundreds of aquatic and terrestrial species--from microscopic-aquatic plants, to insects to mammals. This information is important baseline data for assessing future disturbance from the volcano."

He says that arriving on the scene within hours to days after a disturbance event is paramount for understanding both initial disturbance severity and long-term biological responses. Of particular importance is documenting the types, amounts, and distribution of surviving organisms.

Scientists learned, explains Crisafulli, that traditional theories of disturbance and the succession processes were often inadequate for explaining ecological responses to the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Some of the findings incl
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8-Dec-2004


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