Biological Bounceback at Mount St. Helens | The Institute for Creation Research

Biological Bounceback at Mount St. Helens

Early one bright Sunday morning, Mount St. Helens looked as picturesque as it had for hundreds of years. Suddenly, an earthquake shook loose the north side of the mountain. This uncorked a torrent of heat, ash, and steam that torched trees, pulverized rock, emptied and elevated Spirit Lake, and blasted debris across the nearby landscape. New land formed, mudflows wrecked bridges, and sediment clogged waterways far downstream. That was 40 years ago, but the eruption still brings valuable lessons today.1

United States Geological Survey research hydrologist Jon Major has published several reviews in remembrance of the radical eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State. He described rapid recolonization of the utterly devastated landscape.

The vicious May 18, 1980, eruption was supposed to have wiped all life from the north slope, but some survived the blast. Major wrote in a review for the American Geophysical Union publication Eos, “Even some of the most heavily affected landscapes were not as sterile as initially assumed.”2 He wrote in Science, “Notably, remnants of the pre-eruption biota—biological legacies—that persisted even in what appeared to be a lifeless landscape critically affected ecological recovery.”3

Recent vegetation thrives near Mount St. Helens. Photo taken in June 2017, 37 years after the 1980 eruption.
Image credit: Jon Major, USGS. Used in accordance with federal copyright (fair use doctrine) law. Usage by ICR does not imply endorsement of copyright holders.

Before the eruption, conventional ecologists thought that living things would slowly creep back into the ash and mud from surrounding areas. They thought it could take a century or more for biology to brave the barren blast zone. Evolutionary thinking influenced those preconceived ideas. Nowadays, ecologists see the rapid recolonization at Mount St. Helens as a good reason to recalibrate their old ways of thinking. And these updated expectations for how fast life can colonize mesh well with creation thinking.

Genesis says that God created creatures to multiply and fill the earth. If true, then He would have equipped them with the proper tools to do just that. No wonder keystone species, which support other species in the ecosystem, soon took root, even in nutrient-poor soil.

Major cited research showing that alder trees and lupines began to grow in the mud first. These pioneering plants form symbiotic relationships with microbes that partner with their root tissues, pulling vital nitrogen from the air and plugging it into the soil.

Two views showing plant development between 1983 and 2014 at upper Smith Creek, an area affected by the pyroclastic blast. The regrowth reflects individual survivors as well as colonizing plants.
Image credit: C. M. Crisafulli, USFS. Used in accordance with federal copyright (fair use doctrine) law. Usage by ICR does not imply endorsement of copyright holders.

Unexpectedly, pocket gophers’ burrowing brought that newly nutritive soil to the surface. In far less time than expected, ground that was near keystone species had enough nutrition to support other plants. Today, tall alder and other trees sprinkle the grassy landscape that not too long ago looked quite like the moon’s surface.

Major wrote in Eos, “The importance of biological legacies in promoting recovery emerged as an epiphany.”2 This biological recovery research has influenced land management philosophy. Major wrote of “using variable-retention harvesting, rather than clear-cutting.”2 Creation thinking fits this idea, too. Instead of wiping out every single tree when harvesting wood, we should wisely leave keystone species behind. God equipped them with the tools to quickly re-establish a new forest that harbors habitats, builds biodiversity, and makes more wood that much faster.

In contrast to the pre-1980s evolution-inspired thinking that each organism struggles for its own survival, the big ecological lesson from Mount St. Helens is that plants and animals often work together. Creatures partner to pioneer new lands just like Genesis says they were made to do.

References

  1. Clarey, T. and F. Sherwin. 2020. Mount St. Helens, Living Laboratory for 40 Years. Acts & Facts. 49 (5): 10-13.
  2. Major, J. J. Lessons from a Post-Eruption Landscape. Eos. Posted on eos.org April 24, 2020.
  3. Major, J. J. 2020. Mount St. Helens at 40. Science. 368 (6492): 704-705.

* Dr. Thomas is Research Associate at the Institute for Creation Research and earned his Ph.D. in paleobiochemistry from the University of Liverpool.

Cite this article: Brian Thomas, Ph.D. 2020. Biological Bounceback at Mount St. Helens. Acts & Facts. 49 (8).

The Latest
CREATION.LIVE PODCAST
Forged in Faith: The Hard Work of Making Disciples | Creation.Live...
Jesus commanded that we make disciples, but what does that mean in this modern world? Has the church gone soft?   Hosts Trey and...

NEWS
Algal Microfossils Show No Evolution
Creation scientists maintain that if something is living, then it’s automatically complex. This applies to organisms ranging from a single bacterium...

CREATION PODCAST
Rapid Erosion Devastates Deep Time! | The Creation Podcast: Episode...
Erosion takes place slowly, over millions of years, right? That's what mainstream science tells us anyway. Or, does erosion happen far more...

NEWS
Flood Solves Land and Marine Mixing Near the Andes
A recent article published by Hakai Magazine claims to reveal secrets of an ancient inland sea that existed east of the Andes Mountains,1...

NEWS
T. rex Out of Nowhere
As one of the largest predators ever at 45 feet long, it’s no wonder school children are enthralled with Tyrannosaurus rex. But where did the...

NEWS
February 2024 ICR Wallpaper
"Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." (1 John 4:11 NKJV) ICR February 2024 wallpaper is now available...

NEWS
Evolutionist and ICR Research Both Attempting to Explain Fossil...
Recent evolutionary research is attempting to provide an explanation for why some animals became smaller over time. Or equivalently, it is attempting...

NEWS
Animal Features Did Not Evolve
There’s no doubt that animals in God’s creation have iconic features. The question is, did these features evolve or were they created that...

CREATION PODCAST
Taking a Closer Look at Uniquely Human Eyes | The Creation Podcast:...
While we might take them for granted, our eyes are incredibly complex organs. How do they work? Is it possible for eyes to have evolved over long...

NEWS
The Conserved Complexity of Eye Cell Types
The late leading evolutionary biologist, Ernst Mayr, said the eye appeared at least 40 times “during the evolution of animal diversity.”1...