What is Helenite? Also called Obsidianite, Mount St. Helens Stone, Mount St. Helens Emerald, Mount St. Helens Obsidian, Emerald Obsidian, Ruby Obsidianite, Gaia Stone or Emerald Obsidianite, Helenite is a gemstone that is created from the volcanic dust of Mount St. Helens. It was discovered accidentally by clean-up crews after the explosion of Mount St. Helens in 1980, and is now produced commercially in controlled laboratory environments. Usually appearing similar in color to a bright green emerald, Helenite is not quite as hard as the natural gemstone it is often compared to. With a hardness of 7.5 to 8, emerald is more durable than Helenite, which measures only 5 to 5.5 in hardness.
The Origins of Helenite
When Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, it distributed 540,000,000 tons of ash over 22,000 square miles. Ash from Mount St. Helens was reportedly found in eleven U.S. states and five provinces in Canada. The volcano propelled ash over 15 miles into the air, and it drifted and fell in places far from where the plume began, in the Cascade Mountain range of Washington. Hundreds of acres of forest were destroyed, and many human and animal lives were lost.
It took years to clean up the fallout from Mount St. Helens. Workers from a local timber company were among those who contributed to the efforts. During the clean-up, some of these workers were using acetylene torches to cut through metal debris when they noticed something interesting happening: the heat from the torches melted the volcanic ash into a glassy green substance.
It was later determined through lab experiments that the green glassy substance could be created under controlled conditions by heating the volcanic ash to 2700° Fahrenheit and then cooling it rapidly. Commercial gemstone labs began producing the glass and faceting it for use in jewelry.
Uses of Helenite
Since its development after the eruption of Mount St. Helens, Helenite has been produced and marketed in commercial quantities. Containing high concentrations of silica, aluminum and iron with traces of chromium and copper, the gemstone is a form of obsidionite.
Green is the most recognized and valued color of Helenite, but it is also produced in red and blue hues by adding coloring agents like cobalt as it is created. In the aftermath of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, small vials of raw ash were also marketed to tourists, but the man-made gemstone created from the dust of the volcano is a more wearable souvenir of the historic event.
A brilliant and sparkly green gemstone, Helenite is featured in jewelry such as earrings, necklaces and rings. A fusion of nature and science, Helenite is a beautiful reminder of the power of volcanoes.
More About Mount Saint Helens
The main eruption of the volcano, on May 18, 1980, was accompanied by a 5.2 magnitude earthquake. A slurry of rocks, ash and melted ice flowed down the mountain at 100 mph. Fifty-seven people were killed by the volcano, and a mile-wide crater was created.
Scientists had anticipated the eruption, but they did not expect the devastation created by the volcano, and they did not know exactly when it would happen. The mountain was reduced in height from 9,600 to 8,300 feet, and many aftershocks followed the largest explosion.
A seismic event that had far-reaching impacts on the entire ecosystem, Mount St. Helens has been an outdoor lab for students of biology, ecology, forestry, geology and seismology for over forty years now. Helenite, or Mount St. Helens Emerald, is just one of the many things scientists have discovered from studying the deadliest volcanic eruption in the contiguous United States.
About the Author
Meg Schader is a freelance writer and copyeditor. She holds a Bachelor of Science in agriculture from Cornell University and a Master of Professional Studies in environmental studies from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Along with freelancing, she also runs a small farm with her family in Central New York.
jewel image by Galyna Andrushko from Fotolia.com