Harry Glicken bigraphy, stories - American geologist and volcanologist

Harry Glicken : biography

1958 - 3 June 1991

Harry Glicken (1958–1991) was an American volcanologist. He was killed on June 3, 1991, by a pyroclastic flow on Mount Unzen in Japan; the eruption killed 42 other people, including volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft.

Glicken was a highly dedicated scientist considered enthusiastic and serious by his associates who praised his love for volcanoes. He was an expert in the field of volcanic debris avalanches, and wrote several major publications on the topic, including a detailed study of Mount St. Helens in the United States.


Glicken was born in 1958 to Milton and Ida Glicken. In 1980, shortly after graduating from Stanford University he was hired by the United States Geological Survey 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 at a college in California. Glicken joined Air Force Reserve Rescue Squadron officials in a helicopter searching for his research advisor, David A. Johnston, who had replaced him at his post and had been killed on duty. After the search proved fruitless, Glicken was so distraught that he refused to accept Johnston's death and continued to try to find him.

After the eruption, Glicken continued working for the Survey until 1989, also serving as an assistant researcher at the University of California at Santa Barbara. While completing his post-doctoral studies in Japan at Tokyo Metropolitan University he became involved with research at Mount Unzen, 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. Beginning June 2, he visited the mountain with Katia and Maurice Krafft. He was killed on June 3, 1991, when a pyroclastic flow overcame his post. In total, 43 people died in the incident, and the volcano burned 390 houses. His remains were found four days later, and he was cremated according to his parents' request.


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 coworkers at the United States Geological Survey.

Major publications

  • (1989) U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1789
  • (1996) U.S. Geological Survey Open File 96-677
  • (1985) U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1345
  • The effects of ground water, slope stability, and seismic hazard on the stability of the South Fork Castle Creek blockage in the Mount St. Helens area, Washington (1984) U.S. Geological Survey Open File 84-624


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", and that he was "totally absorbed in it." 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. 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."

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