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Science and history erupt in Tacoma this week

Volcanoes are always on the horizon in Washington — as long as the weather cooperates.

This week, they’re also on the events horizon.

On Tuesday, Pacific Science Center’s Tacoma Science Cafe presents “The 79 A.D. Eruption of Vesuvius and Pliny’s Gift to Volcanology.”

Pliny the Younger, a Roman scholar, penned history’s first detailed account of a large, explosive eruption as he watched Mount Vesuvius erupt across the Bay of Naples. Today’s volcanologists use the word “Plinian” to describe similar eruptions, including those of Mount St. Helens in 1980 and the much larger 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.

At the Science Cafe, Larry Mastin of the United States Geological Survey will discuss what Pliny might have seen, how it influenced volcanology and what is now understood about Plinian eruptions — the world’s most explosive.

The free, all-ages evening at The Swiss begins with a presentation at 6:30 p.m. by Mastin followed by a discussion with the audience.

On Saturday, the 35th anniversary of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens will be observed at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma.

The “Year of the Volcano” commemoration event will feature speakers and activities. It’s the culmination of the “Living in the Shadows: Volcanoes of Washington” exhibit, which closes Sunday.

Mount St. Helens erupted violently May 18, 1980, killing 57 people.

At the History Museum’s event, which runs from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., artists, authors and volcanologists will share their experiences of the eruption and knowledge of the volcano.

Speakers include:

11 a.m.: Atlatl expert Larry Nelson, who will discuss the atlatl in the “Living in the Shadows” exhibit and how the weapon was used by ancient tribes.

1 p.m.: Andre Stepankowsky, a reporter whose coverage of the eruption and the mountain itself has spanned decades.

3 p.m.: John Ewert, scientist-in-charge at the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory.

Visitors can participate in a volcano-themed scavenger hunt at the museum. They also will have an opportunity to discuss the 1980 eruption and their own experiences over refreshments.

Containers of ash from the eruption, jewelry made from the ash, and other volcano-related souvenirs will be for sale, including a limited-edition “Year of the Volcano” commemorative poster designed by Native American artist Jeffrey Veregge.

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