Disasters & Extreme Weather

Published on May 5th, 2013 | by James Ayre

Alaska Volcano Eruption 2013 — Stratovolcano Activity May Disrupt Air Travel

The beautiful nearly-symmetrical Cleveland Volcano in Alaska has now awoken again after a short rest, last erupting in 2011. The remote stratovolcano began erupting on Saturday with a series of three large explosions and has since then been releasing a continuous plume of ash, gas, and steam, into the atmosphere. These releases, particularly the ash, may become a problem and disrupt air travel, according to researchers. The region containing Cleveland Volcano is just below of an an important air-traffic route.

Alaska volcano

Image Credit: Mount Cleveland via Wikimedia Commons

As of now the ash plume isn’t severe enough to cause significant problems to aircraft engines, but that may change in the near-future, according to researchers in the field.

The eruption has led to the diversion of some air-traffic, to the region further north of the volcano, as a precaution though, as ordered by federal aviation authorities.

“Based on the signals we can see, we think it’s continuously in an eruption right now,” said Rick Wessels, a U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory, as quoted by Reuters.

The very large 5,676-foot volcano last showed activity in the summer of 2011 when lava began flowing, and lava domes formed in the crater, which has allowed pressures to build inside of the peak. Since then there have been about 20-25 explosions at Cleveland. These recent explosions, three following shortly after each other, are different than the previous ones though.

“We haven’t seen a phase like this where we’ve had multiple explosions,” Wessels said.

As of now, the ash plume has only reached about 15,000 feet into the atmosphere, which is too low to cause significant problems to much higher-flying commercial jet airliners. “Once it gets to about twice that, we get really worried.”

Volcano ash plume alaska

Image Credit: Ash Cloud Cleveland via Wikimedia Commons

As the eruption intensifies, if it does, the National Weather Service will very likely put out an advisory for ships to avoid the area.

“It’s got us all paying attention. We’re not sure if it will escalate or do what Cleveland does, which is to settle down after small explosions,” he said.

Cleveland Volcano is somewhat difficult to monitor and predict because of its remote location. As a result of the remote location, and budget constraints, there’s no seismic monitoring equipment on the mountain. The volcano is monitored entirely with satellite data by researchers at the Alaska Volcano Observatory. Interestingly, the 2006 eruption was first spotted by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, who then alerted the Alaska Volcano Observatory. Nobody was aware of the eruption before that…

And it’s worth noting that the 2001 eruption caused significant air-traffic disruption,which can be quite expensive for the airlines involved.

Cleveland Volcano is a stratovolcano located on Chuginadak Island, in the Fox Islands of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. It is 5,676 feet tall. The volcano has erupted at least 22 times during the last 230 years. A VEI 3 eruption in 1944 caused one human death, the only one known to have been caused by the volcano in modern times/records.

Based on many features of the volcano, it appears to have formed in only the past 10,000 or so years. There is not much known about the volcano’s activity in prehistory, but Aleut oral traditions do state that the island was once two separate islands that were then joined by volcanic activity.

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About the Author

‘s background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

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