Cessation of the 2004–2008 Dome-Building Eruption at Mount St. Helens, Washington
Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
The 2004–2008 dome-building eruption at Mount St. Helens ended during the winter of 2007–2008 at a time when field observations were hampered by persistent bad weather. As a result, recognizing the end of the eruption was challenging. Also challenging was the fact that signs of continued eruption were increasingly subtle — earthquakes were small, deformation signals tiny, gas content close to background — and observing these phenomena was critically dependent on recordings and measurements made close (< 2 km) to the vent. In hindsight, the end of the eruption was presaged by a slight increase in seismicity in December 2007 that culminated on January 12–13, 2008, with a flurry of more than 500 events, most of which occurred in association with several tremor-like signals and a spasmodic burst of long-period earthquakes. At about the same time, a series of regular, localized, small-amplitude tilt events — thousands of which had been recorded during earlier phases of the eruption — came to an end. Thereafter, seismicity declined to 10–20 events per day until January 27–28, when a spasmodic burst of about 50 volcano-tectonic earthquakes occurred over a span of 3 hours. This was followed by a brief return of repetitive “drumbeat” earthquakes that characterized much of the eruption. By January 31, seismicity had declined to 1–2 earthquakes per day, a rate similar to pre-eruption levels. We attribute the tilt and seismic observations to progressive stagnation of an increasingly stiffened plug of magma in the upper part of the conduit. Upward movement of the plug ceased when the excess driving pressure, which had gradually decreased throughout the eruption as a result of reservoir deflation and increasing overburden from the growing dome, was overcome by increasing sidewall friction as a result of cooling and crystallization of the plug.