Volcanic Activity Increases On Alaska’s Mount Pavlof

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Alaska´s Pavlof Volcano, which roared back to life on May 13, continues to send ash and steam nearly 20,000 feet into the air, just below the threshold that experts deem becomes a threat to air traffic in the region. Over the weekend, Pavlof also began spewing lava hundreds of feet into the air.

The 8,262-foot-high Pavlof, which is located about 625 miles southeast of Anchorage along the Aleutian Islands, but still sits on mainland Alaska, has been continually monitored closely by officials at the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO). Kristi Wallace, a geologist with the AVO, said the aviation warning level for the eruption remained at code orange, just below the highest threat level: code red.

As satellite images came through, there were occasional instances of the ash cloud reaching 22,000 feet, according to KTUU, Alaska’s official news source.

Residents of Sand Point, a city of about 1,000 people on Popof Island 55 miles east of the volcano, found traces of ash on their vehicles Sunday morning as they awoke. Several residents have taken photographs and have sent them to the AVO, noted Wallace.

Wallace said samples of the ash were also being relayed to the AVO and she was “excited to see what those look like.” As it stands the threat is still minimal, but a continued layer of ash particles can pose a significant threat to vehicles, plugging air filters and damaging engines, she said.

“Both reports indicate film on their windshield, but they could see through it – gritty ash,” Wallace told Dan Joling of The Associated Press (AP).

The activity at the volcano is on-going, with seismometers picking up continuous tremors. “It’s on this really steady rate that’s still high,” she said.

Chris Waythomas, another geologist working at the AVO, told KTUU that it´s fortunate that relatively “few people live right around the volcano.” For those who do live in surrounding communities, such as Sand Point and Nelson Lagoon, Waythomas said it is unlikely that significant ash fall will occur in these areas. Other nearby communities, such as Cold Bay and King Cove are upwind of the volcano and should typically not see any ash.

Pavlof last erupted in 2007 and continued to do so for 29 days. Past eruptions have lasted weeks, months and even years. Wallace said the 2007 eruption was “short compared to past eruption in historical times.” She warned that Pavlof´s current eruption could last “months.”

The prevailing winds on the peninsula are forecast to change, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). If so, the ash could move northeast away from Sand Point and toward Nelson Lagoon, a small commercial fishing village of 46 people. The NWS warned people to avoid prolonged exposure to ash, especially if they have respiratory problems, such as asthma or COPD. Also, people should protect critical electronic systems and other equipment from ash particle contamination.

There are no solid estimates on what Pavlof will do from here on out; it could recede, continue or magnify.

“For the most part, what we see at Pavlof is exactly what we’re seeing now: really low level, ash-poor plumes, continuous activity,” Wallace told AP. “But there’s always an opportunity for something to spike up to, say, 30,000 feet.”

If the ash cloud does go much higher the warning level will likely be raised to red, she said.

Pavlof is not the only volcano in Alaska that has recently reared its ugly head. The AVO is continuing to monitor Cleveland, which sits further southeast on Chuginadak Island in the Aleutians. However, with Cleveland, monitoring can only be done using infrasonic technology, which generally takes about 40 minutes to reach forecast stations.

The AVO last week said that federal budget cuts to volcanic seismic monitoring has affected its ability to keep a close watch on many of Alaska´s 52 volcanic peaks. Nearly 40 percent of the USGS seismic stations around Alaskan volcanoes are in disrepair and need fixing. But without funds in place to repair them, they will continue to collapse.