Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Mazama Ash in Montana

This photo was taken 12 miles northeast of Helena, Montana. The white streak is a layer of ash from the explosive eruption of Mt. Mazama (Oregon) 7,700 years ago. Geologists can determine where the ash originated by comparing its chemical composition with the compositions of volcanoes found in the region. .

The volume of ash produced by Mazama was forty-two times greater than the amount produced by St. Helens in 1980. Prevailing winds caused the ash to spread eastward. Initially the ash covered much of the ground in the Northwest. But in the months following the eruption, wind and runoff transported the ash to low places (lakes, valleys), where it was eventually buried beneath layers of sediment. Today it can be seen in places where it has been exposed in road-cuts, cut banks, archeological digs, etc. The sediment above the ash layer in the photo to the right was deposited in the centuries after the ash settled here, then the exposed when road construction cut into the slope.

The Mazama ash layer has been found at many other places in the Northwest as well. In fact, Mazama ash serves as a good "key bed" for the region. Key beds help determine relative age - For example, several years ago archeologists came upon Mazama ash while excavating a Paleo-Indian campsite near Helmville, Montana. Mazama ash was exposed at the dig site ABOVE the evidence, indicating that the Indians used the site before the big eruption (at least 7,700 years ago).

The Mazama eruption also emptied significant amounts of magma from the chamber beneath the volcano. As a result, after the eruption the remaining cone collapsed into the chamber, forming a huge crater known as a "caldera". Today, Crater Lake (Oregon) fills the caldera.

For much more about Mazama Ash, CLICK HERE

Also, check out my Montana hiking blog at - Lots of geology!