Alaska’s Aleutian Islands: Volcanic eruption leads to flights cancellation; prompts safety alerts

Published on : Wednesday, January 8, 2020

A disastrous volcano in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands spewed ash into flight paths, prompting a warning to pilots by the National Weather Service. The volcano shot an ash cloud about 5 miles (8 km) into the sky, prompting major flight delays and cancellations and raining volcanic particles onto at least one nearby community.



Shishaldin Volcano erupted at 5 a.m. Tuesday, the Alaska Volcano Observatory announced, and sent up an initial ash cloud to 19,000 feet (5791.2 meters). Clouds initially obscured the mountain, but satellite imagery confirmed the ash cloud, U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Hans Schwaiger said.


Seismicity diminished for a few hours, but it then increased again. During the increase, the volcano spewed an ash cloud to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), the observatory announced. The later eruption increased the volume of ash. The wind continued to push the ash cloud northeast into the eastern Bering Sea and away from jet airliners flying between North America and Asia.



However, the National Weather Service upgraded its alert level to a warning. Trace amounts of ash were expected to fall on communities as far away as Sand Point about 140 miles (225 kilometers) east of the volcano. Seismic activity greatly diminished after noon.



The volcanic eruptions were confirmed by lighting and satellite data, the observatory said. More explosions could occur or activity could significantly decrease with little warning, according to the observatory. The observatory first detected increased seismic activity at the volcano. Elevated surface temperatures indicated active lava at the vent in the volcano summit, the observatory said.



The volcanic ash is angular and sharp and has been used as an industrial abrasive. The powdered rock can cause a jet engine to shut down. The volcano is 679 miles (1,093 kilometers) southwest of Anchorage near the center of Unimak Island, the largest island in the Aleutians. False Pass, a village of 40 people, is on the island’s east side. Unless winds change, the cloud would move north of False Pass and would not pose a threat, Schwaiger said. Shishaldin also erupted Dec. 12, producing an ash cloud that reached up to 25,000 feet (7,620 kilometers), and on Friday, sending an ash cloud to about 24,000 feet, (7,315 meters).


Alaska accounts for more than three-quarters of all U.S. volcanoes that have erupted during the past 200 years, according to the observatory website.


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