Academic Reading

The Spectacular Eruption of Mount St. Helens Reading Passage

Reading Passage 2

The Spectacular Eruption of Mount St. Helens


The eruption in May 1980 of Mount St. Helens, Washington State, astounded the world with its violence. A gigantic explosion tore much of the volcano’s summit to fragments; the energy released was equal to that of 500 of the nuclear bombs that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.


The event occurred along the boundary of two of the moving plates that make up the Earth’s crust. They meet at the junction of the North American continent and the Pacific Ocean. One edge of the continental North American plate overrides the oceanic Juan de Fuca microplate, producing the volcanic Cascade range that includes Mounts Baker, Rainier and Hood, and Lassen Peak as well as Mount St. Helens.


Until Mount St. Helens began to stir, only Mount Baker and Lassen Peak had shown signs of life during the 20th century. According to geological evidence found by the United States Geological Survey, there had been two major eruptions of Mount St. Helens in the recent geologically speaking) past: around 1900 B.C., and about A. D. 1500. Since the arrival of Europeans in the region, it had experienced a single period of spasmodic activity, between 1831 and 1857. Then, for more than a century, Mount St. Helens lay dormant.


By 1979, the Geological Survey, alerted by signs of renewed activity, had been monitoring the volcano for 18 months. It warned the local population against being deceived by the mountain’s outward calm and forecast that an eruption would take place before the end of the century. The inhabitants of the area did not have to wait that long.

On March 27, 1980, a few clouds of smoke formed above the summit, and slight tremors were felt. On the 28th, larger and darker clouds consisting of gas and ashes emerged and climbed as high as 20,000 feet. In April a slight lull ensued, but the volcanologists remained pessimistic. Then, in early May, the northern flank of the mountain bulged, and the summit rose by 500 feet.


Steps were taken to evacuate the population. Most – campers, hikers, timber–cutters – left the slopes of the mountain. Eighty-four-year-old Harry Truman, a holiday lodge owner who had lived there for more than 50 years, refused to be evacuated, in spite of official and private urging. Many members of the public, including an entire class of school children, wrote to him, begging him to leave. He never did.


On May 18, at 8. 32 in the morning, Mount St. Helens blew its top, literally. Suddenly, it was 1,300 feet shorter than it had been before its growth had begun. Over half a cubic mile of rock had disintegrated. At the same moment, an earthquake with an intensity of 5 on the Richter scale was recorded. It triggered an avalanche of snow and ice, mixed with hot rock – the entire north face of the mountain had fallen away.

A wave of scorching volcanic gas and rock fragments shot horizontally from the volcano’s riven flank, at an inescapable 200 miles per hour. As the sliding ice and snow melted, it touched off devastating torrents of mud and debris, which destroyed all life in their path. Pulverized rock climbed as a dust cloud into the atmosphere. Finally, viscous lava, accompanied by burning clouds of ash and gas, welled out of the volcano’s new crater, and from lesser vents and cracks in its flanks.


Afterwards, scientists were able to analyse the sequence of events. First, magma – molten rock – at temperatures above 2000°F, had surged into the volcano from the Earth’s mantle. The build-up was accompanied by an accumulation of gas, which increased as the mass of magma grew. It was the pressure inside the mountain that made it swell. Next, the rise in gas pressure caused a violent decompression, which ejected the shattered summit like a cork from a shaken soda bottle. With the summit gone, the molten rock within was released in a jet of gas and fragmented magma, and lava welled from the crater.


The effects of the Mount St. Helens eruption were catastrophic. Almost all the trees of the surrounding forest, mainly Douglas firs, were flattened, and their branches and bark ripped off by the shock wave of the explosion. Ash and mud spread over nearly 200 square miles of country. All the towns and settlements in the area were smothered in an even coating of ash. Volcanic ash silted up the Columbia River 35 miles away, reducing the depth of its navigable channel from 40 feet to 14 feet, and trapping sea-going ships. The debris that accumulated at the foot of the volcano reached a depth, in places, of 200 feet.


The eruption of Mount St. Helens was one of the most closely observed and analysed in history. Because geologists had been expecting the event, they were able to amass vast amounts of technical data when it happened. A study of atmospheric particles formed as a result of the explosion showed that droplets of sulphuric acid, acting as a screen between the Sun and the Earth’s surface, caused a distinct drop in temperature.

There is no doubt that the activity of Mount St. Helens and other volcanoes since 1980 has influenced our climate. Even so, it has been calculated that the quantity of dust ejected by Mount St. Helens – a quarter of a cubic mile – was negligible in comparison with that thrown out by earlier eruptions, such as that of Mount Katmai in Alaska in 1912 (three cubic miles). The volcano is still active. Lava domes have formed inside the new crater, and have periodically burst. The threat of Mount St. Helens lives on.

Questions 15-16
Reading Passage 1 has 9 paragraphs labelled A-l.
Answer questions 15 and 16 by writing the appropriate letters A-l in boxes 1 and 2 on your answer sheet. 

15. Which paragraph describes the evacuation of the mountain?
16. Which paragraph describes the moment of the explosion of Mount St. Helens?

Questions 17-18
Write NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS AND/OR NUMBERS for questions 17 & 18.

17. What are the dates of the TWO major eruptions of Mount St. Helens before 1980?
18. How do scientists know that the volcano exploded around the two dates above?

Questions 19-22
Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the passage for each answer.

In 1979 the Geological Survey warned 19____________ to expect a violent eruption before the end of the century. The forecast was soon proved accurate. At the end of March, there were tremors and clouds formed above the mountain. This was followed by a lull, but in early May the mountain rose by 20____________ People were 21____________ from around the mountain. Finally, on May 18th at 22____________, Mount St. Helens exploded.

Questions 23-24
Complete the table below giving evidence for the power of the Mount St. Helens eruption.
Write your answers in boxes 9 and 10 on your answer sheet.


The energy released by the explosion of Mount St. Helens


500 nuclear bombs

The area of land covered in mud or ash 23__________
The quantity of dust ejected 24__________

Question 25
Choose the appropriate letter A-D. 

25. According to the text, the eruption of Mount St. Helens and other volcanoes has influenced our climate by…

A. increasing the amount of rainfall.
B. heating the atmosphere.
C. cooling the air temperature.
D. causing atmospheric storms.

The Spectacular Eruption of Mount St. Helens Reading Answers

(15) E

(16) F

(17) 1900 B.C., A.D. 1500



(20) 500 FEET


(22) 8.32 A.M.


(24) (A) QUARTER / 1 / 4 OF (A) CUBIC MILE

(25) C

Also Check: Asian Space 2 Satellite Technology: IELTS Reading Practice

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button