January 29, 2009

Alaska Volcano Could Erupt At Any Time

Alaska's Mount Redoubt volcano is expected to erupt at any time now and scientists are keeping a watchful eye on the volcano's hour-to-hour activity.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory told CNN news that Redoubt's seismic activity level of has increased markedly in recent days at the 10,197-foot peak located about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, the state's most populous city.

Peter Cervelli, a research geophysicist with the observatory, is keeping a watchful eye on the volcano.

"We don't have a crystal ball but we expect, based on the past behavior of this volcano, that this activity is going to culminate in an eruption," Cervelli said.

"As of now, the activity has consisted of a combination of discrete, relatively small earthquakes and periods of more continuous volcanic tremor," he added.

The volcano's alert status was raised to a "watch" level on Sunday, based on seismic activity detected January 23.

A volcano watch is considered the second-highest warning level, meaning it "exhibits heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption, time frame uncertain, or eruption is under way but poses limited hazards," the U.S. Geological Survey stated.

One resident near the current commotion was around during the last eruption and claims she isn't too worried about the new activity.

"Living in Alaska and being close to nature, residents just laugh such events off and deal with them as they come," said Maureen Burke, who manages a coffee shop in Anchorage.

Another resident close-by said falling ash is the biggest potential problem. "The best way to protect yourself from the harmful showers of ash is to wear a mask," said Missy Moore, an administrator and supervisor of Starbright Early Learning Center in Anchorage.

She suggested it was really not anything to worry about just yet.

Moore said the school would adhere to the public school district's guidelines, should Mount Redoubt cover nearby cities with volcanic ash.

"If the [public] school district closes schools, our school closes too. The city of Anchorage advises citizens to stay indoors," Moore said. "The ash can get into your engines and mess up your car."

Residents are encouraged to buy air filters for their cars, according to 17 year-old Shana Medcoff, who lives about 50 miles away from the volcano.
Geologists believe there could be an eruption similar to or smaller than the one that occurred 20 years ago, when Mount Redoubt erupted in December 1989 and that lasted until April 1990.

Cervelli said that eruption spread ash in Kenai and Anchorage, where it disrupted air traffic operations when ash plumes caused engine failure on a jet.

He warned that while it isn't the closest volcano to Anchorage, it still has the potential to disrupt air traffic within the city.

The eruption 20 years ago also caused volcanic mudflows, or lahars, which flowed east down the Drift River, where residents reported seeing ash fall as far away as Fairbanks and the Yukon Territory border.

Web cameras were set up near the summit of the volcano and within Cook Inlet so scientists can capture continuous visual surveillance, measure gas output and analyze satellite and weather-radar data, the Volcano Observatory said.


Image Caption: Eruption cloud from Redoubt Volcano as viewed to the west from the Kenai Peninsula. USGS


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