Harry Glicken

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Harry Glicken
Glicken at work
Born 1958
Died June 3, 1991
Mount Unzen, Japan
Cause of death
Killed in a pyroclastic flow
Nationality American
Alma mater Stanford University, University of California at Santa Barbara, University of Tokyo, Tokyo Metropolitan University

Harry Glicken (1958–June 3, 1991) was an American volcanologist killed by a 1992 pyroclastic flow on Mount Unzen in Japan. Glicken died while conducting research with volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft. Glicken notably worked at Mount St. Helens in the United States before and after its famous 1980 eruption, and he felt responsible for the death of fellow volcanologist David A. Johnston, who had switched shifts with Glicken so that the latter could attend an interview.

Glicken was a highly dedicated scientist considered enthusiastic and eccentric by his associates, who praised his love for volcanoes and his commitment to accomplishing something major in his field. He was an expert in the speciality of volcanic debris avalanches and wrote several major publications on the topic, including a detailed study of St. Helens titled "Rockslide-debris Avalanche of May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens Volcano, Washington" that initiated widespread interest in volcanic landslides. That 1996 report has been acknowledged by many other publications on debris avalanches.

Life and career[edit]

Glicken was born in 1958 to Milton and Ida Glicken.[1] In 1980, shortly after graduating[2] from Stanford University[3] he was temporarily hired by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to help monitor Mount St. Helens from a trailer and was scheduled to observe Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, the day of its eruption; however, he was not present at that event as he had an interview with Richard V. Fisher in Mammoth, California.[4] Glicken joined Air Force Reserve Rescue Squadron officials in a helicopter searching for his research advisor,[5] David A. Johnston, who had replaced him at his post and had been killed on duty.[2] Despite searching with three separate crews over a span of nearly six hours, Glicken found no trace of Johnston.[6] After the search proved fruitless, Glicken was so distraught that he refused to accept Johnston's death and continued to try to find him.[2] USGS Survey scientists decided over the summer to establish the David A. Johnston Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO), but Glicken was excluded from it as he was only a student and had not yet earned a Ph.D.[7]

In the summer after the eruption, Glicken returned to St. Helens to attempt to study the remains of the volcano's lateral blast. Other USGS employees had already taken up analysis, so Glicken's offer to conduct his own research was declined.[8] Soon after he found work with newly appointed Survey employee Barry Voight, a specialist in landslides. Glicken attacked his work,[9] motivated to earn himself a job at the Survey.[10] Glicken and a team mapped the debris field that remained from St. Helens's structural collapse, which consisted of roughly a quarter of the mass of the volcano. Through extensive, meticulous work, they puzzled together the debris, which consisted of pieces ranging from 100 yards (91 m) in width to mere fragments, then they traced the origins of each piece along with their means of movement during the eruption. This work became a landmark study in the field of volcanic landslides, earning Glicken rapid fame and opportunities to research internationally in Japan, New Zealand, and Guadeloupe and establishing that tall volcanoes have a tendency to collapse.[10]

In the years following his study's publication, Glicken still did not obtain a job at USGS. Because of his eccentric nature, he became isolated from employees at the Survey, who found him bizarre. After he realized that he would likely never work for the Survey, he became depressed and pulled his hair out.[11] Glicken continued helping the Survey until 1989,[12] also serving as an assistant researcher at the University of California at Santa Barbara.[13]

Glicken continued his volcanological studies as a postdoctoral fellow supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation at the Earthquake Research Institute of the University of Tokyo in Japan in the mid to late 1980s.[14] Later, while a visiting scientist in Japan at Tokyo Metropolitan University,[15][16] where he also worked as a translator,[17] Glicken became involved with research at Mount Unzen,[15] which resumed eruptive activity after 198 years of dormancy in November 1990. In the months after its first activity, the volcano had been erupting sporadically, and the vicinity had been evacuated near the end of May.[18] Beginning June 2, he began a visit to the mountain with Katia and Maurice Krafft.[12] The three entered a danger zone near the base of the volcano the following day, expecting that any pyroclastic flows would follow a turn in the landscape and safely bypass them. But a large flow that erupted coursed down the valley at 60 miles per hour (97 km/h), reached the turn,[19] and separated into two parts. The upper, hotter part swiftly overcame their post, killing them and leaving very little ash.[20] In total, 43 people[nb 1] including press who had been watching the volcanologists[22] died in the incident, and the volcano burned 390 houses,[21] the remains of the flow reaching 2.5 miles (4 km).[19] Glicken's remains were found four days later, and were cremated according to his parents' request.[1]

Volcanic landslide work[edit]

By combining careful geologic analysis with detailed eyewitness observations Harry is able to reconstruct the first several minutes of the catastrophic May 18, 1980 eruption and to provide insights into the transport mechanisms of the mass movement.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of this publication [Glicken's1996 report] is the construction of detailed geologic maps of the debris-avalanche deposit. These maps illustrate in meticulous detail where various segments of the old edifice came to rest, how some segments were transported intact, how other segments blended and mixed together, and associations between the rockslide-debris avalanche and other volcanic processes such as the devastating lateral blast and the lahar of the North Fork Toutle River valley. Nowhere before has a deposit of this type been mapped in such detail. Furthermore, the Mount St. Helens deposit will never be mapped in such detail again. The deposit gradually is being eroded as the North Fork Toutle River channel evolves. While some exposures are better than they were when Harry mapped the deposit, others no longer exist.

Jon Major in the preface to Glicken's "Rockslide-debris Avalanche of May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens Volcano, Washington" (1996)[23]

At the time of his death, Glicken had been seeking to publish his doctoral dissertation. One of the foremost experts in the field of debris avalanches on the slopes of volcanoes, the criteria for which he defined, Glicken authored several seminal publications in the field. After the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, the field grew as more studies identified debris at well-known volcanoes. His extremely detailed and comprehensive reports of flows at Mount St. Helens are considered the most complete in the field to date and were later published by his acquaintances Carol Ostengren, John Costa, Dan Dzurisin, and Jon Major, among others, at the United States Geological Survey.[23]

Glicken's report is titled "Rockslide-debris Avalanche of May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens Volcano, Washington". It compiles Glicken's painstakingly extensive laboratory and field work, supplemented by photographs of the eruption, writings that describe St. Helens before the eruption, and previous publications including that of Barry Voight.[24] In his work for 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. The report also provides a conclusion for the movement of each slide block, utilizing photographs and other data to estimate the velocity of each landslide, describing the composition of each, and recounting the interactions between blocks.[25]


A memorial plaque to Harry Glicken at the University of California, Santa Barbara

After hearing of his son's death, Glicken's father, Milton, said that his son "was doing exactly what he wanted and was very happy being able to work on volcanos",[1] and that he was "totally absorbed in it."[1] United States Geological Survey co-worker Don Peterson added that Glicken was "keen" in his enthusiastic approach to observation, praising his accomplishments throughout his career and as a graduate student.[1] Speaking about Glicken's personal passion for his field, his mentor, Richard V. Fisher of the University of California, Santa Barbara, wrote, "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."[26] Associate Robin Holcomb remarked that "Harry was very enthusiastic, very bright, and very ambitious, ambitious to do something worthwhile on volcanoes."[27]

Glicken's criteria for volcanic landslide recognition have been utilized in many studies. Many subsequent papers on avalanches have acknowledged or referenced Glicken's 1996 report.[23]


Despite their appreciation of his work, many of Glicken's associates considered him eccentric and highly disorganized. One of his friends wrote after his death, "Harry was a character his whole life. [...] Everyone who knew him was amazed he was such a good scientist."[9] Describing 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".[9] Glicken was noted for being extremely sensitive and was often considered crazy; he also paid meticulous attention to detail.[9] He was chatty and occasionally lost touch with reality, once getting off a bus and letting it leave before realizing he had left his shoes behind. In college, he slept in a professor's room while the teacher was away and left garbage strewn across the floor. When Glicken's cooked food, he waited for the smoke alarm to go off to determine when the food was finished.[17]

Major publications[edit]

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 wrote that "The full scope of Harry's work [...] has never been published."[23]


  1. ^ There is some disagreement over the exact number of people killed; sources variously list it as 42 or 43 people. For example, Lopes (2005) lists it as 42[19] while USGS lists it as 43.[21]


  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. ^ a b c Durbin, Kathie (April 1, 2010). "Helicopters to Hell". The Columbian (Campbell, Scott). Retrieved December 29, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Geologist Loved What He Was Doing". The Charlotte Observer (The McClatchy Company). June 7, 1991. p. 14A. 
  4. ^ Fisher, pg. 92.
  5. ^ Thompson, pg. 111.
  6. ^ Thompson, pg. 112.
  7. ^ Thompson, pgs. 141–42.
  8. ^ Thompson, pgs. 150–51.
  9. ^ a b c d Thompson, pg. 151.
  10. ^ a b Thompson, pg. 152.
  11. ^ Thompson, pgs. 153–54.
  12. ^ a b "Japan". The Gainesville Sun (Doughton, James E.). June 4, 1991. 
  13. ^ Talmadge, Eric (June 2, 1991). "12 Dead as Japan Volcano Erupts Again". The Day (The Day Publishing Company). p. A3. Retrieved May 9, 2014. 
  14. ^ National Science Foundation. "Awards Search". Retrieved November 30, 2013. 
  15. ^ a b "Brother Missing". The Bulletin (Western Communications). June 5, 1991. 
  16. ^ Talmadge, Eric (June 9, 1991). "More Bodies Still Line Volcano Slopes". Hendersonville Times-News. 
  17. ^ a b Thompson, pg. 154.
  18. ^ Gruber, Bob (June 4, 1991). "Volcano Erupts After Months of Sporadic Activity". Star-News. Vol. 124 (№ 200). p. 1. 
  19. ^ a b c Lopes, pg. 44.
  20. ^ Fisher, pg. 98.
  21. ^ a b "Description: Unzen Volcano, Japan". United States Geological Survey. December 20, 2001. Retrieved January 30, 2012. 
  22. ^ Lopes, pg. 43.
  23. ^ a b c d Major, Jon (September 2006). "Preface-Rockslide-debris Avalanche of May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens Volcano, Washington". United States Geological Survey. Retrieved January 29, 2012. 
  24. ^ Glicken, pg. 1.
  25. ^ Glicken, pgs. 74–79.
  26. ^ Russell, Ron (June 25, 1991). "In Pursuit of Deadly Volcanoes". Los Angeles Times (Hartenstein, Eddy). 
  27. ^ Thompson, pg. 153.


External links[edit]