Influence of particle aggregation on deposition of distal tephra from the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mount St. Helens volcano.

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An unusual feature of the deposit is the occurrence of a second thickness maximum 325km ENE of MSH near Ritzville, Washington. Grain size and component abundance analysis of samples along the main dispersal axis indicates that ash in this region is very fine grained (mean size, 22 mu m), poorly sorted, polymodal, and rich in glass shards and pumice fragments. A computer simulation of ash fallout from an atmospherically dispersed eruption plume was developed to evaluate various hypotheses for the origin of the distal ash characteristics, particularly the thickness versus distance relationship. The model was constrained by observations of the eruption column height, elevation of major ash transport, lateral spreading of the eruption plume, and atmospheric wind structure in the vicinity of MSH. Results of different simulations indicate that the second thickness maximum cannot be attributed to either decreased wind velocities over central Washington or injection of fine ash above the horizontal wind velocity maximum near the tropopause. For the model to fit the observed characteristics of the deposit, significant particle aggregation of ash finer than 63 mu m must be invoked. The best fit occurs when ash less than 63 mu m is aggregated into particles several hundred microns in diameter with a settling velocity of 0.35 m/s.-from Authors

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Journal of Geophysical Research