Mount St. Helens’ Historic Volcanic Eruption is Relived Through 3D Printing

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sthelensaniThe human mind works in 3 dimensions. We see in 3D, we dream in 3D, and we think in 3D. When we are asked to envision the world in just 2 dimensions, our brains have a more difficult time grasping the concept. Think about it for a moment. We are all constantly striving to make all of our 2-dimensional experiences closer to the 3-dimensional reality that we live in. This is true with movies, video games, and everyday life. Now, thanks to 3D printing we can use 3 dimensions to express many different objects and events which previously could only be expressed in 2 dimensions. As an example of this, one man named Drew Thompson has used this relatively new technology of 3D printing to bring to life an event that happened nearly 35 years ago.

One May morning, back in 1980, the world stood in astonishment as we witnessed one of the largest volcanic eruptions in modern history take place. On May 18, 1980, after a couple months of earthquakes, caused by the flow and injection of magma, Mount St. Helens in Washington State saw its north face slide away from the mountain, resulting in an incredible exploding volcanic eruption.

The famed Mount St. Helens event featured an eruption column that reached heights of over 80,000 feet, and left ash falling from the sky in 11 surrounding states. 57 deaths were reported and over $1 billion in property damage was caused. Also, the famous mountain was left with a major scar. On the morning of the volcanic eruption, Mount St. Helens appeared almost as it had for centuries before, but just hours later, it was left missing a large chunk from its north face.

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Drew Thompson, using data he downloaded from the USGS Historic Digital Elevation Model database, decided to recreate a before and after 3D print of the Mount St. Helens eruption. He downloaded the data, then used ArcMap and Python to process it into a 3D printable STL file, which he has since made available on Thingiverse for others to download and print themselves.

sthelens2Thompson then used his MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer to print out the end result of the volcanic eruption, using white filament, and then the part of the mountain that slid away, using red filament. Once complete, the two pieces fit together like a puzzle, and it shows exactly how the mountain appeared both before and after the large volcanic eruption that took place on that early morning in May, back in 1980.

In the print process, Thompson set his Z-axis values to be exaggerated by a factor of two, giving the final print an interesting topographical looking result, as seen in the photos.

This is just one example of how 3D printing is allowing us to envision history, geology, and other aspects of our everyday lives in 3-dimensions. It makes it so much more interesting, and much easier to grasp than simply looking at data and photographs in a book or on a computer screen.

What do you think about this 3D printed replica of one of the most notable volcanic eruptions of our time? Discuss in the 3D printed Mount St. Helens forum thread on 3DPB.com.  Watch the video of the north face of Mount St. Helens sliding away below.

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