The intensity and magnitude of Holocene plinian eruptions from Mount St. Helens volcano

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Dispersal characteristics of the T, We, Wn, Pu, Ps, Ye, Yn and Yb plinian fall deposits of Mount St. Helens have been measured at 80 sites downwind of the volcano in order to model eruption dynamics and atmospheric transport. Isopleth contours for the sizes of maximum pumice and lithic clasts are used to calculate peak eruption column heights and intensities (magma discharge) based on a theoretical model of tephra dispersal. New proximal thickness measurements are combined with an empirical distal extrapolation, based on studies of 53 plinian deposits, to calculate the magnitude (erupted mass) of each eruption. Layer Yn (3510 y r B.P.) represents the highest intensity and largest magnitude eruption at Mount St. Helens in post-glacial times. Modeling suggests column height grew to about 31 km before gradually declining at the end of the plinian phase (~ 26 hours). Several intraplinian surge deposits are present in the upper part of the fall layer close to the volcano and up to 15 km to the northeast of Mount St. Helens. Peak intensity of the plinian phase was 108 kg/s and the total erupted volume was 4 km3 (DRE of magma). Small plinian-style eruptions are represented by layers such as Ps and Pu of the Pine Creek eruptive period (3000-2500 yr B.P.) and have intensities of only ~ 106 kg/s. When compared with plinian eruptions from other volcanoes, the Holocene eruptions of Mount St. Helens span from the lower to the middle part of the known range in intensity and magnitude and are typical of events derived from intermediate-sized stratovolcanoes. There is also a general correlation between the intensity of plinian eruptions within eruptive cycles and the repose period prior to each cycle. This relationship may be related to a time-dependent process for the accumulation of differentiated and volatile-rich magma within the chamber beneath Mount St. Helens. © 1995.

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Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research