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Dr. Bob Visits Spirit Lake, Mount St Helens

Updated: May 5

What do recent events tell us about Earth's catastrophic past?

Application: The global flood described in the Bible is consistent with observable science.

In this L.I.F.E. Lesson, Dr. Bob visits Spirit Lake a the base of Mount Saint Helens in Washington, and describes the vents of its eruption, and the processes still underway that demonstrate how the events of the global flood, as described in the Bible, explain the existence of coal and fossil forests we observe today. For additional lessons and support material, visit the A Flood of Hope​ site.

Supplemental Information

The eruption of Mount St. Helens occurred on May 18, 1980. The explosion was the result of an earthquake and rockslide involving one-half cubic mile of rock. As the summit and north slope slid off the volcano, pressure was released inside the volcano. Super hot liquid water immediately flashed to steam. The steam explosion was directed to the north and released energy equivalent to 20 million tons of TNT. This sheared off 150 square miles of forest in six minutes. In Spirit lake, north of the volcano, an enormous water wave, initiated by one-eighth cubic mile of rockslide debris, stripped trees from slopes high above the pre-eruption water level. The total energy output, on May 18, was equivalent to 400 million tons of TNT: approximately 20,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs.

While the amount of material that plunged into Spirit Lake was small in comparison to the rest of the event, it caused an enormous wave across the lake and 860 feet up the opposite hillside. As it rushed up the slope, the wave ripped out a million large trees and dragged them back into the lake. Initially, the surface was so tightly packed with floating logs that the water could not be seen. National Guard pilots who flew over the lake immediately after the eruptions stated that the lake had "disappeared." Only when the logs began to move were they able to determine that the lake was there, covered by a massive log mat. Log mats like this would have been common during Noah’s Flood as the forests growing in the pre-Flood world were ripped up by the rising flood waters and the massive waves created.

The Formation of Coal

This enormous log mat floating on Spirit Lake has lost its bark and branches by the abrasive action of wind and waves. This sank to the bottom of the lake forming an organic layer of peat. Divers investigating the lake bottom have shown that water-saturated sheets of tree bark are especially abundant on the bottom of the lake. A layer of peat several inches thick has accumulated.

The Spirit Lake peat resembles, both compositionally and texturally, certain coal beds of the eastern United States, which also are dominated by tree bark and appear to have accumulated beneath floating log mats. Non-Biblical geologists have proposed that Coal had accumulated from organic material accumulated in swamps. Because this accumulation of peat in swamps is a slow process, geologists have taught that coal beds required about one thousand years to form each inch of coal. The peat layer in Spirit lake, however, demonstrates that peat would accumulate rapidly after an event like the global flood described in the Bible. In peat, the intrusive action of tree roots disintegrates and homogenizes the peat, a feature not seen in coal deposits. The Spirit Lake peat, in contrast, is texturally very similar to coal. All that is needed is burial and slight heating to transform the Spirit Lake peat into coal. Thus, at Spirit Lake, we are seeing the first stage in the formation of coal.

Specimen Forests

Careful observation of the floating log mat at Spirit Lake indicates that many trees float in upright position, with a root ball submerging the root end of the trunk. As the trees sank to the bottom with their heavy root-end, they penetrated the sediment and peat layers there. The initial sediment deposited in the lake raised its floor by 300 ft. Further sediments were deposited in the subsequent months and years. As more logs sank they formed a ‘forest’ of vertical logs with their roots buried in sediment at different levels on the bottom. Because different varieties of trees become waterlogged and sink to the bottom at different rates, these trees, if buried in sediment, would appear to have been a forest which grew in place over hundreds or thousands of years.

This is the standard geological interpretation for the upright petrified "specimen forests" at Yellowstone National Park. However, the vertical ‘trees’ at the bottom of Spirit Lake were ripped up from one forest that was destroyed in one catastrophic event.


Geologically speaking, uniformitarianism is the idea that geological processes (rates of erosion and uplift, etc.) are essentially the same today as they were in the unobservable past. According to this principle, we should be able to make accurate determinations about processes in the past simply by observing processes in the present. This principle is often summed up with the phrase “the present is the key to the past.” A strict uniformitarian would look at a canyon with a river running through the bottom and see millions of years of slow, gradual erosion caused by that river. Mt Saint Helens eliminated this interpretation.

Catastrophism is the idea that natural disasters (floods, earthquakes, etc.) can dramatically alter the surface of the earth very quickly. We can be certain that most of the significant geological features we see today were formed rapidly during past catastrophes rather than by the slow, gradual processes of uniformitarianism. We must take the effects of these catastrophes into consideration when studying the history of the earth’s surface. A catastrophist would look at the same canyon with the river running through the bottom and wonder if it was the result of gradual uniformitarian or rapid catastrophic erosion (like the canyon rapidly formed by the Toutle River washing out a mudslide following the Mt. St. Helens eruption).

The Bible says that Earth was inundated in a global deluge (Noah’s flood). The Apostle Peter said that here shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts," as a result of their own lusts (their arrogance and self-importance), they will say, "where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." Due to their own arrogance, they will deny the coming of Jesus Christ, and will use their lack of confidence in Biblical truth as their excuse.

Mt Saint Helens, and Sprit Lake, give us a view into the catastrophes that shaped the world during the global flood. This should give us confidence that a Biblical interpretation of the evidence we observe in the earth's geology confirms God's plan.


Scripture References

  • "Where shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished" 2 Peter 3:3-6

  • "I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake . . . neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease." Genesis 8:21-22

  • "For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now." Romans 8:22

Spirit Lake Worksheet
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Related Information

Dr. Bob reviews the events of May 18, 1980 in the shadow of Mt Saint Helens.

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