One of the aesthetic joys of Washington State University’s Vancouver campus is the proximity to the Cascade Range. Campus planners more than 30 years ago took advantage of the vistas and aligned the central walking mall with a stunning view of Mount St. Helens. Look in another direction and you can see Oregon’s Mount Hood.

On clear days, it almost feels like the campus’s Salmon Creek location is throwing distance from the volcano.

The location of Mount St. Helens offers more than postcard beauty. WSU scientists take a closer view of the mountain since it offers a living laboratory of the effects of a volcanic eruption. The massive 1980 explosion covered the region in ash, but researchers have watched the return of life there.

Biology professor John Bishop at WSU Vancouver has studied the region since 1990. He returns often to the Pumice Plain to observe the plants and animals and monitor biodiversity on permanent survey plots for WSU.

The Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver also keeps an eye on the mountain. “Mount St. Helens was important because it was so well observed, and it spurred investigations of volcanoes in the Cascades,” volcanologist Don Swanson (’60 Geol.) , who witnessed the 1980 eruption and worked at the observatory, told Washington State Magazine in 2020.