email - July 2001
by Do-While Jones

Mount St. Helens

We received a very long email from Warren, which included this paragraph:

You also mentioned Mount St. Helen [sic], now I ask, how did this mountain produce stratified rock? Now if during the eruption and earthquake some of the mountain was exposed, and the exposed part was stratified rock, then you can not say St. Helen [sic] produce stratified rock, but merely the event caused a part to be exposed. Then to say, this stratified rock only looks millions of years old, you being a creationist I would assume that you would see it as 7,000 years old rather than millions of years old. Lets cont. you go on to say "Radioactive measurements of these rocks show them to be millions of years old, too. But we know they were formed in 1980 because scientists saw them formed." I think you need to read the artical [sic] below, its [sic] very much like your St. Helen [sic] event.

We have three comments to make about this email.

  1. The eruption did not expose old stratified rock. The snow on the peak, melted by mineral-rich steam, combined with ash, dirt, and rock, formed mud which flowed down the side of the volcano. It produced new stratified rock which had the appearance of rocks generally believed to have been produced a layer at a time over a period of many years. This new rock formed on top of old rock. It didn't expose old rock.
  2. No, we would not rather see these new sedimentary rocks dated as 7,000 years old. We would rather see them dated at 20 years old because that is the correct date. Furthermore, the issue with sedimentary rock isn’t just how long ago it formed. It is equally important to know how long it took to form.
  3. The “artical [sic] below” which Warren refers to suggests that older inclusions in the sedimentary rock were dated. We agree that new sedimentary rock is made up of bits and pieces of older, eroded rock. We know that geologists don’t even try to date sedimentary rock using radioactive methods for exactly this reason. We should have been more careful to say that it was lava from the crater that was radioactively dated. The radioactive dating of lava in the crater has nothing to do with the new layers of stratified sedimentary rock at the base of the volcano. We are glad to take this opportunity to clarify what we previously wrote, and apologize for any confusion it caused.

This is just one of several emails we have received that indicate considerable confusion about Mount St. Helens. Because there seems to be so much interest and confusion, we have decided to show Steve Austin's Mount St. Helens video again at this month’s Fourth Friday Free Film. We hope you will come and bring a friend.

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