The intense seismic activity which preceded the 18 May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, Washington, released 2 to 3 × 1018 ergs/day in earthquakes that did not correlate temporally with phreatic eruptions which occurred during the same period. Although the b value and amplitude ratios (long-period/short-period) of the earthquakes vary with time, there are no definitive precursors to the 18 May earthquake and eruption. A Mogi type II frequency-magnitude relation, with critical magnitude Mc = 4.6, constrains the characteristic dimension of the highly stressed region under Mount St. Helens to approximately 3 km, preceding the eruption. A major increase in seismic energy release and a decrease in b value around 1 April 1980 may indicate the first major influx of magma into the upper portion of the volcano.
Seismic waves from low-frequency volcanic earthquake have large periods at all epicentral distances. Recordings of volcanic earthquakes from 2 to 4 April 1980 at sites 4 to 9 km from Mount St. Helens show two predominant periods of 0.55 and 1.0 sec. We speculate that seismic signals from the low-frequency volcanic earthquakes have a tectonic origin, but may be modified by pressure oscillations in nearby magma.