National Geographic News
A photo of the Pavlof volcano erupting in 2013.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) photographed an eruption of Alaska's Pavlof Volcano on May 18, 2013. The volcano reawakened this week.

PHOTOGRAPH BY ISS CREW EARTH OBSERVATIONS EXPERIMENT AND IMAGE SCIENCE & ANALYSIS LABORATORY, JOHNSON SPACE CENTER VIA EARTH OBSERVATORY/NASA

Brian Clark Howard

National Geographic

Published June 4, 2014

One of Alaska's many active volcanoes is releasing arcs of lava and plumes of ash this week that have provoked flight warnings for the region.

The 8,262-foot (2,518-meter) Pavlof Volcano on the Alaska Peninsula, 590 miles (950 kms) southwest of Anchorage in the remote wilderness, has been shooting lava to a height of approximately 500 meters.

A plume of ash, meanwhile, reached 24,000 feet (7,315 meters) into the air on Monday and drifted east for 50 miles (80 kilometers), prompting authorities to issue the most serious warning level for aviation, red.

By Tuesday night, the warnings were downgraded one level to orange, or "watch," thanks to diminished activity and clear weather that improves visibility.

Ben Edwards, a volcanologist at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania who had done work in Alaska, says officials have been concerned because many commercial aircraft fly over the area heading to and from Asia. Ash can disrupt visibility and even cause mechanical problems in airplanes, although so far there has not been evidence of harm from Pavlof.

Aircraft have so far been able to fly above or around the ash, says Edwards, without appreciable disruption in service. "But officials are still monitoring the situation," he says. (See "Pictures: When Snow and Ice Meet Lava.")

When blocks of the hot rock from the eruptions hit the ground, they cause melting of the abundant snow. That causes flows of material a few miles down from the volcano cone.

Such hot mud flows, called lahars, extended for miles to the coast during the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption, although Edwards notes that Pavlof doesn't have as much explosive power.

History of Eruptions

Pavlof has erupted 20 to 30 times over the last hundred years, says Edwards, who has received funding from National Geographic. It last erupted with an ash plume on June 26, 2013.

Edwards says that while Pavlof is not as explosive as Mount St. Helens, it's more explosive than the well-known and highly active volcano Kilauea in Hawaii. Its lava is generally basaltic andesite, which is common for the Aleutian Arc of volcanoes of which it is a part and results in eruptions of intermediate force.

Geologists often describe the conical Pavlof as a "Fuji-style" volcano, since it resembles the iconic Mount Fuji in Japan.

Edwards adds that Pavlof has not been well studied by geologists because of its remote location. "It is a major expedition to just fly over it, let alone do any work on the ground," he says.

Scientists had not detected increased seismic activity under the mountain before this recent eruption, although they did note through satellite data that temperatures at the top spiked.

Follow Brian Clark Howard on Twitter and Google+.

17 comments
Sara Groundwork
Sara Groundwork

Fascinating. For those of you rummaging around - you may find the current events tied to the volcanic arc which delineates the boundary between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates, including southern edge of the Bering Sea and onto the Alaska Peninsula. As several have pointed out, this zone has had repeated and ~fairly frequent events for hundreds of years (that we know about). I'd give this area a wide berth - looks like it's going to happen again!

HAN CHIEH WU
HAN CHIEH WU

Nature alway could find the way out, ice and fire.

Donna Pezzulli
Donna Pezzulli

No matter what man does or does not do...nature will always have the last word!!


Gerard Van der Leun
Gerard Van der Leun

Well, I'd say the last few days of this would pretty much put as much carbon dioxide back in the atmosphere as the entire United States has kept out of the atmosphere in the last 17 years.

John King
John King

Spent many years fishing in the vicinity of this volcano. Life on the Ring of Fire. To Captain Charlie King, M/v Muskrat - heads up...in your path.

Dwayne LaGrou
Dwayne LaGrou

They noted that temperatures at the top of the volcano has risen!

YOU THINK!?

It's a VOLCANO, I think we could all assume that if it is erupting that the temperatures would rise.

Let's just hope it affects air travel like that volcano on Greenland or Iceland did. Now that would be something to steer clear of!

William Manatee
William Manatee

@John King And may God protected the crew of fish factory Aleutian Falcon, destination Chignik, Captain Jim Boner.   And the brave me everywhere scattered nearby this deadily disaster that threatens all with hellish death.

Neil Singh
Neil Singh

@Dwayne LaGrou maybe they mean after the big eruption because you would realize that after eruption some or most  volcano will cool down (well the top part)

Michael Williamson
Michael Williamson

@Richard Tyll Astrophysicist?  So, not an atmospheric scientist, then?  


So in accordance with AGW rules, he's not allowed an opinion.

Dwayne LaGrou
Dwayne LaGrou

Yes, and after I looked at what I typed I noticed I missed a word. What I meant to type was, I hope it DOESN'T affect air travel. The last thing I would wish on the pilots is more ash for them to deal with.

Thanks for pointing out my error.

Share

Popular Stories

The Future of Food

  • Why Food Matters

    Why Food Matters

    How do we feed nine billion people by 2050, and how do we do so sustainably?

  • Download: Free iPad App

    Download: Free iPad App

    We've made our magazine's best stories about the future of food available in a free iPad app.

See more food news, photos, and videos »