Alaska Volcano Erupts, Air Travel Disruption Possible

It’s been nearly two years since scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) warned that Alaska’s Cleveland volcano could erupt at any time, issuing a code yellow eruption advisory. Saturday, those scientists were proven more than right.

“We haven’t seen a phase like this where we’ve had multiple explosions,” Rick Wessels, a geophysicist at the US Geological Survey‘s Alaska Volcano Observatory, told Reuters in a Christian Science Monitor report.

Over the weekend, the Cleveland volcano erupted, spewing gas, steam and low levels of ash 15,000 feet into the atmosphere, directly into the commercial airline flight path between Asia and North America. While disruption in the atmosphere at 15,000 feet is well below the normal 35,000 feet cruising altitude of commercial aircraft, the concern is that further eruptions could disrupt air traffic, much like Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano (pictured) did in 2010.Then, nearly 20 European countries closed their airspace after a secondary eruption ejected an ash plume that rose to a height of 30,000 feet. For now, scientists wait and watch.

[Image credit – Flickr user finnur.malmquist]

Alaska volcano has airlines preparing for travel chaos

Using satellite imagery, scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) have determined that Alaska’s Cleveland volcano may be ready to erupt and have issued a code yellow eruption advisory. Airlines that operate in the area are paying close attention because the Cleveland Volcano is located directly below the commercial airline flight path between Asia and North America.

The significant problem here is that, due to the remoteness of the Cleveland Volcano, there is no on-the-ground ongoing monitoring of activity. The volcano could erupt without warning and satellite imagery might not detect the blast immediately creating a serious potential problem for aircraft flying over the area.

“Short-lived explosions with ash clouds that could exceed 20,000 ft above sea level can occur without warning and may go undetected on satellite imagery for hours” the AVO said in a statement.

That leaves experts preparing for the volcano’s first big eruption in 10 years. A 2001 eruption brought lava flow including a hot avalanche that reached the sea and blasted volcanic ash more than five miles into the sky. Since then a series of minor eruptions have occurred with the most recent minor ash emission in September 2010.

“Airlines operating through the region are aware that an eruption could happen suddenly and without further warning, and are preparing for potential travel chaos” reports
The 5,676 foot Cleveland Volcano, one of more than 90 in Alaska, is situated on the uninhabited island of Chuginadak in the Aleutian chain, 939 miles southwest of Anchorage and is one among many that lie in the Aleutian island chain. Nikolski, the town nearest to the Cleveland Volcano, is 45 miles away.

Not up on the advisory scale for volcano’s? Here’s what it all means;

Normal– Volcano is in typical background, non-eruptive state or, after a change from a higher level, volcanic activity has ceased and volcano has returned to non-eruptive background state.

Advisory- (where the Cleveland Volcano is right now) Volcano is exhibiting signs of elevated unrest above known background level or, after a change from a higher level, volcanic activity has decreased significantly but continues to be closely monitored for possible renewed increase.

Watch– Volcano is exhibiting heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption, time-frame uncertain, OR eruption is underway but poses limited hazards.

Warning– Hazardous eruption is imminent, underway, or suspected.

Photo by Alaska Volcano Observatory

Related Stories