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This review summarizes what the volcanology community has learned thus far from studying the deposits of pyroclastic currents (PCs) from the 1980 eruption sequence at Mount St. Helens. The review includes mass flow events during the May 18 eruption, including the lateral blast, the afternoon column collapse and boil-over PC activity, and some aspects of the debris avalanche. We also include a summary of PCs generated in the smaller eruptions following the climactic May 18 event. Our objective is to summarize the state of our understanding of PC transport and emplacement mechanisms from the combination of field and laboratory observations, granular flow experiments, and numerical modeling techniques. Specifically, we couple deposit characteristics, experiments, and numerical modeling techniques to critically address the problems of (1) constraining conditions in the flow boundary zone at the time of deposition; (2) the influence of substrate roughness and topography on PC behavior; (3) the prevalence, causes, and consequences of substrate erosion by PCs; and (4) the reconstruction of PC transportation and sedimentation processes from a combination of geophysical and sedimentological observations. We conclude by providing opportunities for future research as our field, experimental, and numerical research techniques advance.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.