Impact of the lateral blast on the spatial pattern and grain size characteristics of the 18 May 1980 Mount St. Helens fallout deposit

Julia Eychenne*, Katharine V Cashman, Alison C Rust, Adam Durant

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)
283 Downloads (Pure)


The 18 May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens started with a lateral blast that fed a pyroclastic surge, which then uplifted to form a co-blast plume. Thirty minutes later, Plinian activity started at the vent and fluctuated in intensity for ~9 h. The resulting fallout deposit, documented to > 600 km from vent, presents some striking features: (1) displacement of the overall deposit to the north of the vent, (2) a secondary thickness and mass maximum at ~300 km from vent, (3) a total grain size distribution dominated by fine ash (62 wt % of the deposit < 63 µm), and (4) individual grain size distributions that vary dramatically in the crosswind direction from strongly bimodal in the south to skewed unimodal in the north. Results from a new deconvolution of the individual grain size distributions show that they are a combination of a coarse subpopulation that decreases in size with distance from vent and a constant fine subpopulation with a mean of ∼15 µm. Relative proportions of each subpopulation vary asymmetrically in the crosswind directions, with the fine subpopulation preponderant toward the north and the coarse one dominating the south of the deposit, both reach their absolute maxima in mass on the deposit axis. Componentry analyses of selected samples show that blast-derived material is greatly enriched toward the north of the deposit. These results indicate that the co-blast plume dispersed fine-grained material over great distances and dominated the fine subpopulation. Comparison with reanalysis data of atmospheric wind fields and satellite images of the spreading ash cloud suggests contrasting ash transport and depositional processes for the (early) co-blast plume and the (later) vent-derived Plinian plumes. The co-blast plume is displaced to the north; it had a high overshoot height, and eastward dispersion via strong winds low in the stratosphere (~10–15 km). The Plinian plumes were lower and dispersed most of the material to the southeast as the direction of high-velocity winds shifted just before the late climactic Plinian eruptive phase. Fine ash (fine subpopulation) was deposited continuously throughout the deposit, with an increase of sedimentation rate ~300 km from the vent where there is a secondary maximum in the deposit mass and thickness. Fine ash probably settled by a combination of enhanced sedimentation mechanisms, including not only aggregation but also gravitational convective instabilities of cloud base, hydrometeor formation and destruction, and entrainment of small particles by larger ones. Finally, we show that half of the deposit (by mass) in the medial area was deposited by the co-blast plume, and that a significant proportion of the Mount St. Helens fallout deposit is nonjuvenile, which has implications for the magmatic budget of this eruption.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6018-6038
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number9
Early online date9 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2015


  • fine ash
  • copyroclastic density current plumes
  • Mount St. Helens
  • sedimentation


Dive into the research topics of 'Impact of the lateral blast on the spatial pattern and grain size characteristics of the 18 May 1980 Mount St. Helens fallout deposit'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this