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Harry Glicken

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Harry Glicken

Harry Glicken
Man wearing a coat and hat and holding a pad of paper sits on a rock , with a lake and several mountains visible in the background
The volcanologist at work
Born 1958 (1958)
Died June 3, 1991(1991-06-03) (aged 33)
Mount Unzen, Japan
Cause of death Killed in a pyroclastic flow
Nationality American
Alma mater

Harry Glicken (1958 – June 3, 1991) was an American volcanologist. He researched Mount St. Helens in the United States before and after its famous 1980 eruption, and blamed himself for the death of fellow volcanologist David A. Johnston, who had switched shifts with Glicken so that the latter could attend an interview. In 1991, while conducting avalanche research with volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft on Mount Unzen in Japan, Glicken was killed by a wayward pyroclastic flow. His remains were found four days later, and were cremated in accordance with his parents' request. Glicken and Johnston remain the only American volcanologists known to have perished in volcanic eruptions.

Despite a long-term interest in working for the avalanches. He also wrote several major publications on the topic, including his doctoral dissertation based on his research at St. Helens titled "Rockslide-debris Avalanche of May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens Volcano, Washington" that initiated widespread interest in the phenomenon. Since being published posthumously by Glicken's colleagues in 1996, the report has been acknowledged by many other publications on debris avalanches. Following his death, Glicken was praised by associates for his love of volcanoes and commitment to his field.


  • Life and career 1
    • Early work 1.1
    • Research after St. Helens and death 1.2
    • Posthumous report 1.3
  • Tributes and legacy 2
  • Major publications 3
  • References 4
    • Sources 4.1
  • External links 5

Life and career

Early work

 Man sitting on a folding chair next to a vehicle and trailer, writing in a notebook and smiling as he looks towards the camera
Glicken was devastated when his mentor and adviser, David A. Johnston, seated in the center of this picture at the Coldwater II post, was killed by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens

Glicken was born in 1958 to Milton and Ida Glicken.[1] He graduated from Stanford University in 1980.[2] Later that year, while a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara,[3] he was temporarily hired by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to help monitor the volcano Mount St. Helens in Washington state. St. Helens, dormant since the 1840s and 1850s, resumed activity in March 1980.[4]

As seismic and volcanic activity increased, volcanologists working for the USGS in its Vancouver branch prepared to observe any impending eruption. Geologist Don Swanson and others placed reflectors on and around the growing lava domes,[5] and, on May 1, 1980,[6] established the Coldwater I and II observation posts to use laser ranging to measure how the distances to these reflectors changed over time as the domes deformed. Glicken monitored the volcano for two weeks, taking shelter in a trailer at the Coldwater II site located a little more than 5 miles (8 km) northwest of the volcano.[6] On May 18, 1980, after working for six days straight,[1] Glicken took the day off to attend an interview for his graduate work with his professor, Richard V. Fisher, in Mammoth, California.[7] His research adviser and mentor[8] David A. Johnston replaced him at his post,[9][8] despite expressing concerns about its safety given indications of mobile magma within the volcano.[6] After a magnitude 5.1 earthquake centered directly below the north slope triggered that part of the volcano to slide at 8:32 a.m.,[10] Mount St. Helens erupted. Johnston was killed after he was enveloped by swift pyroclastic flows that traveled down the mountain's flanks at near supersonic speeds.[11]

After the eruption, Glicken went to Toutle High School, the center for relief efforts, where he joined Air Force Reserve Rescue Squadron officials in a helicopter to look for Johnston or any sign of his post.[8] Despite searching with three separate crews over a span of nearly six hours, Glicken found no trace.[12] He attempted to enlist a fourth helicopter crew to aid his search, but they declined, fearing dangerous conditions.[13] In his distraught state, Glicken refused to accept Johnston's death, and had to be comforted by Swanson before calming down.[13]

In mid-1980, after the May eruption, USGS Survey scientists decided to establish the David A. Johnston Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO) in Vancouver,[14] intending to closely monitor volcanoes in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.[15] Glicken returned to St. Helens to analyze the remains of the volcano's lateral blast. However, as other CVO employees had already commenced their research at the mountain, Glicken's offer to help USGS on his own was declined by senior scientists.[16] Instead, he found work with newly appointed Survey employee Barry Voight, a specialist in landslides. Under Voight's guidance, Glicken absorbed himself in his work,[3] motivated to earn a job at the Survey, and to relieve some of his anguish over Johnston's death.[17] Glicken and a team of geologists mapped the debris field left over from St. Helens's structural collapse, which consisted of roughly a quarter of the mass of the volcano. Through extensive, meticulous analysis, the team traced the origins and the means of movement of each piece of debris, ranging from blocks 100 yards (91 m) in width to mere fragments.[18]

With his group, Glicken compiled a landmark study in the field of volcanic landslides, establishing the principle that tall volcanoes have a tendency to collapse.[18] The study garnered praise for its unique conclusions and attention to detail,[19] inspiring volcanologists to identify similar deposit mounds at volcanoes around the world. After the findings from his dissertation were published in several shorter articles throughout the 1980s,[20] Glicken earned recognition as the first geologist to explain the creation of hummock fields near tall volcanoes.[19]

Research after St. Helens and death

In the years following the eruption, despite earning rapid fame and opportunities to research internationally in Japan, New Zealand, and Guadeloupe, Glicken still failed to obtain a job at USGS.[18] Senior employees at the Survey found his behavioral oddities unsettling. Activity at Mount St. Helens diminished, prompting USGS to reduce CVO's budget and contemplate closing the station.[19] After realizing that he would likely never receive a permanent post at the Survey, Glicken became depressed and began pulling his hair out.[21] He continued helping the Survey until 1989,[22] also serving as an assistant researcher at the University of California at Santa Barbara.[23]

From 1989 to 1991,[24] Glicken continued his volcanological studies in Japan as a postdoctoral fellow at the Earthquake Research Institute of the University of Tokyo, supported by grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation.[25] Later, while a research professor and translator[26] at Tokyo Metropolitan University,[27][28] Glicken became involved with research at Mount Unzen.[27] The volcano had recently resumed eruptive activity in November 1990, after being dormant for 198 years. In the months after its first activity, it erupted sporadically, and the government evacuated its vicinity near the end of May of 1991.[29] On June 2, 1991, Glicken visited the mountain with Katia and Maurice Krafft.[22] The three entered a danger zone near the base of the volcano the following day, assuming that any potentially hazardous pyroclastic flows would follow a turn in the landscape and safely bypass them. Later that day, a lava dome collapsed,[30] sending a large flow down the valley at 60 miles per hour (97 km/h). The current reached the turn[31] before separating into two parts, and the upper, hotter part swiftly overcame the volcanologists' post, killing them upon impact.[32] In total, 41 or 42 people died in the incident,[31][33] including press who had been watching the volcanologists.[34] The volcano burned down 390 houses,[33] and the remains of the flow extended 2.5 miles (4 km) in length.[31] Glicken's remains were found four days later, and were cremated according to his parents' wishes.[1] To date, Glicken and Johnston are the only American volcanologists known to have been killed by a volcanic eruption.[35]

Posthumous report

At the time of his death, Glicken had been seeking to publish his doctoral dissertation in one piece, having earlier published elements as shorter articles. He had already defined the criteria for debris avalanches on the slopes of volcanoes, and authored several publications on the subject; Swanson named him one of the foremost experts in the field.[18] After the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, research in the niche grew as more studies identified debris at well-known volcanoes. His detailed and comprehensive work on flows at Mount St. Helens is considered the most complete in the field to date. It was later published in 1996 as a single report by his acquaintances Carol Ostengren, John Costa, Dan Dzurisin, and Jon Major, among others, at the United States Geological Survey.[20] In his preface to Glicken's publication, Major comments that "the Mount St. Helens deposit will never be mapped in such detail again."[20]

Glicken's report is titled "Rockslide-debris Avalanche of May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens Volcano, Washington". It comprises his extensive laboratory and field work, supplemented by photographs of the eruption, writings that describe St. Helens before the eruption, and references to previous publications, including Voight's work.[36] In the report, Glicken constructed a map of the landslide deposit at a scale of 1:24000, followed by a lithogic map describing rock varieties at a scale of 1:12000.[20] The report also provides a conclusion for the movement of each slide block, using photographs and other data to estimate the velocity of each landslide, describing the composition of each, and recounting the interactions between blocks.[37]

Tributes and legacy

Despite their appreciation of his work, many of Glicken's associates considered him eccentric and highly disorganized. Chatty, noted for being extremely sensitive, and often considered a "nut" by his peers, Glicken also paid meticulous attention to detail.[3] One of his friends writes, "Harry was a character his whole life. ... Everyone who knew him was amazed he was such a good scientist."[3] Regarding Glicken's driving habits, the same acquaintance describes him as "a cartoon character" who "would drive at full speed down the road, talking about whatever was important to him, and ... come to a four-way stoplight and he'd sail through it, never knowing he'd just gone through".[3]

Glicken's father said in 1991 that his son died pursuing his passion,[24] and that he was "totally absorbed" with volcanology.[1] United States Geological Survey co-worker Don Peterson adds that Glicken was keen in his enthusiastic approach to observation, and praises his accomplishments throughout his career and as a graduate student.[1] Speaking about Glicken's personal passion for his field, his mentor and professor Richard V. Fisher writes, "What happened at St. Helens is something that troubled [Glicken] deeply for a very long time, and, in a way, I think it made him even more dedicated than he was before."[38] Associate Robin Holcomb remarks that "Harry was very enthusiastic, very bright, and very ambitious, ambitious to do something worthwhile on volcanoes."[19] Many studies have utilized Glicken's criteria for volcanic landslide recognition, and many subsequent papers on avalanches have acknowledged or referenced Glicken's 1996 report.[20] Reflecting on Glicken's body of work, USGS employee Don Swanson names him as "a world leader in studies of volcanic debris avalanches".[18]

Glicken was closely connected to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he earned his doctorate and conducted research. To remember his association with the university, each year the Department of Geology awards an outstanding graduate geology student the "Harry Glicken Memorial Graduate Fellowship", established by the Harry Glicken Fund, which aims to support students "who will pursue research relating to the understanding of volcanic processes".[39]

Major publications

Most of Glicken's published work centers around the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. He also coauthored works with other volcanologists that focused on debris avalanches. Colleague Jon Major writes that "The full scope of Harry's work ... has never been published."[20]

  • "Geology and ground-water hydrology of Spirit Lake blockage, Mount St. Helens, Washington, with implications for lake retention U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1789".  
  • "Rockslide-debris avalanche of May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens Volcano, Washington U.S. Geological Survey Open File 96-677".  
  • "The 1980 eruptions of Mount St. Helens, Washington (1981) U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1250".  
  • "The effects of ground water, slope stability, and seismic hazards on the stability of the South Fork Castle Creek blockage in the Mount St. Helens area, Washington U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1345".  
  • "The effects of ground water, slope stability, and seismic hazard on the stability of the South Fork Castle Creek blockage in the Mount St. Helens area, Washington U.S. Geological Survey Open File 84–624".  


  1. ^ a b c d e Siegel, Lee (June 7, 1991). "Geologist Killed in Japan Eruption: Escaped Death When Mt. St. Helens Blew". Ludington Daily News (Community Media Group). p. 8. Retrieved April 10, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Geologist Loved What He Was Doing".  
  3. ^ a b c d e Thompson, pg. 151.
  4. ^ Gorney, Cynthia (March 31, 1980). "The Volcano: Full Theater, Stuck Curtain; Hall Packed for Volcano, But the Curtain Is Stuck". The Washington Post. 
  5. ^ Parchman, pgs. 108–109.
  6. ^ a b c  
  7. ^ Fisher, pgs. 90–92.
  8. ^ a b c Thompson, pg. 111.
  9. ^ Durbin, Kathie (April 1, 2010). "Helicopters to Hell".  
  10. ^ Harris, pg. 205.
  11. ^ "Mount St. Helens: 1980 Cataclysmic Eruption".  
  12. ^ Thompson, pg. 112.
  13. ^ a b Parchman, pg. 46.
  14. ^ Thompson, pgs. 141–42.
  15. ^ "Who We Are and What We Do".  
  16. ^ Thompson, pgs. 150–51.
  17. ^ Thompson, pgs. 151–152.
  18. ^ a b c d e Thompson, pg. 152.
  19. ^ a b c d Thompson, pg. 153.
  20. ^ a b c d e f Major, Jon (September 2006). "Preface-Rockslide-debris Avalanche of May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens Volcano, Washington" (PDF).  
  21. ^ Thompson, pgs. 153–54.
  22. ^ a b "Japan".  
  23. ^ Talmadge, Eric (June 2, 1991). "12 Dead as Japan Volcano Erupts Again". The Day (The Day Publishing Company). p. A3. Retrieved May 9, 2014. 
  24. ^ a b "Geologist loved his work".  
  25. ^  
  26. ^ Thompson, pg. 154.
  27. ^ a b "Brother Missing".  
  28. ^ Talmadge, Eric (June 9, 1991). "More Bodies Still Line Volcano Slopes". Hendersonville Times-News. 
  29. ^ Sanger, David E. (June 4, 1991). "Volcano Erupts After Months of Sporadic Activity".  
  30. ^ Parchman, pg. 359.
  31. ^ a b c Lopes, pg. 44.
  32. ^ Fisher, pg. 98.
  33. ^ a b "Unzendake: Bulletin Reports".  
  34. ^ Lopes, pg. 43.
  35. ^ Fisher, pg. 99.
  36. ^ Glicken, pg. 1.
  37. ^ Glicken, pgs. 74–79.
  38. ^ Russell, Ron (June 25, 1991). "In Pursuit of Deadly Volcanoes".  
  39. ^ "Graduate Student Awards". University of California, Santa Barbara. 2014. Retrieved July 15, 2014. 


  • Fisher, Richard V. (2000). Out of the Crater: Chronicles of a Volcanologist.  
  • Glicken, Harry (1996). Rockslide-Debris Avalanche of May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens Volcano, Washington (PDF) (Report) (U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 96-677).  
  • Harris, Stephen L. (1988). Fire Mountains of the West: The Cascade and Mono Lake Volcanoes.  
  • Lopes, Rosaly M. C. (January 2005). The Volcano Adventure Guide.  
  • Parchman, Frank (2005). Echoes of Fury: The 1980 Eruption of Mount St. Helens and the Lives it Changed Forever. Kent Sturgis.  
  • Thompson, Dick (January 2002). Volcano Cowboys: The Rocky Evolution of a Dangerous Science. Macmillan.  

External links

  • Yoshiaki Ida and Barry Voight, Introduction to the Harry Glicken memorial special issue on "models of magmatic processes and volcanic eruptions", Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research Volume 66, Issues 1–4, Models of Magmatic Processes and Volcanic Eruptions, July 1995, Pages ix–xvi.
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