Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Eruption of Mount St. Helens: IMAX

Moving near the Cascade Mountain Range is the best thing we ever could have done for our five-year-old. What small boy doesnt want to live near enough to a volcano to maybe see it blow, but not get injured in the process? Due to Jackson's enthusiasm for everything on earth, we're seriously hot for Mt. St. Helens: its flat table-top, its ever-active crator-building lava dome, its own VolcanoCam, its bouts of steam issuances (a good-sized plume rose above the mountain two weeks ago when we were visiting the Silver Lake Visitor Center--at first we told ourselves it was a cloud--silly us).

We recently watched The Eruption of Mount St. Helens , which was released as a 70mm IMAX film, using footage from rescue helicopters as the mountain spewed forth in 1980. Some of the footage is pretty astounding, although Amazon shoppers were underwhelmed. "It is obviously not made from original 70mm film stock," fumes one reviewer, to whom I say: let's see YOU rescue 198 people from an active volcano while lugging a 70mm film camera in your rescue copter. Another reviewer wrote, "Did anyone else notice the rotary blades of the helicopter were visible in most of the footage?" Again, I can only state emphatically that the rotary blades of a rescue copter help keep it up in the air while its pilots are rescuing people.

Of course, I can't make light of this situation. Jackson reminds us almost daily that 57 people died from the explosion and subsequent ash fall. Today he mentioned that a hundred and million people were rescued. It seems so to him. He's in love with all the snow-covered mountains around us, Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, but Mt. St. Helens has a hold on him almost as intense as the side-loader garbage trucks he follows weekly around here.

As a documentary, the film kind of sucks--no scientific background; no first-hand accounts; somnolent narration; but the footage is pretty engrossing. I saved way too many screen caps of the big explosion and can only think of limited ways to use them. Perhaps in a postcard format. Mt. St. Helens postcardThis mountain is still an active volcano and is a fascinating reminder of how tiny and helpless we are in the face of hot magma.

Mt. St. Helens, pre-eruption.
Then on May 18th, 1980: Ka-blooey.
Pristine Spirit Lake, at the foot of the mountain, pre-eruption.
And after--a post-apocalyptic landscape.
The initial explosion issued from a "bulge" on the north side of the mountain, which had been growing for several days following weeks of measurable earthquakes. The lateral explosion killed 57 people, wiped out countless elk, birds and other wildlife, destroyed miles of old-growth forests, and sent tons of gray ash 12 miles into the air, which then rained down all over Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Puckish Northwest humor (coated in ash).
Inside the new mile-wide crater, a fresh lava dome was forming.

But it blew up. More eruptions followed for the next six years.
The film has been updated with footage from ten years after the eruption but it's outdated now. Plants and animals are back at Mt. St. Helens. There are three visitor centers where you can view the mountain and its ever-growing lava dome within the crator.

To see what happens when a volcano implodes, here's a film still of Southern Oregon's Crater Lake. Several thousand years ago Mt. Mazama sank into the ground to a depth of 1,943 feet and formed the deepest lake in the U.S. Wizard Island, shown here, is a lava dome that later formed in the lake and all that appears to be left of Mt. Mazama (at least to our eyes).

Be sure to visit Volcano World.

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