Saturday May 18, 2013

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- One of Alaska’s most restless volcanoes shot an ash cloud 15,000 feet into the air Friday in an ongoing eruption that is visible for miles.

An air traffic controller in the region said small planes have flown around the plumes from Pavlof Volcano. Ash would have to rise tens of thousands of feet to threaten larger planes.

The eruption began Monday, and a photograph shows lava spraying out from the summit of the volcano, located 625 miles southwest of Anchorage. The Alaska Volcano Observatory said clouds of ash, steam and gas have occasionally reached the 20,000-foot level and have been visible from the nearby communities of Cold Bay and Sand Point.

Onsite seismic instruments have detected an increase in the force of tremors from the 8,262-foot volcano.

"It’s definitely kicking right along," John Power, the U.S. Geological Survey scientist in charge at the observatory, said Friday.

A mining camp 50 miles northeast of the volcano reported a light ash fall Tuesday evening, according to the observatory.

Residents of Cold Bay, about 40 miles from Pavlof, are concerned the ash could damage their power generators, air traffic controller John Maxwell said Friday. But so far, the wind has blown the ash away from the area, he said.

"Everybody is thinking about it," Maxwell said. "Not that anybody is afraid they’re going to be like Mount Vesuvius and turned into little mummies.


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Mike Tickle, manager of the local fuel terminal, said his wife woke him up Wednesday night to tell him she saw a splatter of lava spurting from Pavlof. He hustled to get his camera, but by the time he went to have a look, all that remained was a red glow.

"It’s been overcast since then," he said.

Typically, Pavlof eruptions are gas-rich fountains of lava that can shoot up to a few thousand feet. But its ash clouds are usually less dense than the plumes of more explosive volcanoes that pose a greater hazard to aircraft, scientists say.

Pavlof is among the most active volcanoes in the Aleutian arc, with nearly 40 known eruptions, according to the observatory.

The volcano last erupted in 2007. During the 29-day eruption, Pavlof emitted mud flows and erupting lava, as well as ash clouds up to 18,000 feet high, according to Power.

In early May, Cleveland Volcano, on an uninhabited island in the Aleutian Islands, experienced a low-level eruption. Satellite imagery shows the volcano has continued to discharge steam, gas and heat in the past week. New analysis of earlier images showed a small lava flow going over the southeast rim of the summit crater, the observatory said.

There has been no new imagery in recent days because of overcast skies in the area, Power said.

No ash clouds have been detected in more than a week from Cleveland, which is not monitored with seismic instruments.

The volcano is a 5,675-foot peak on a remote island 940 miles southwest of Anchorage. Cleveland’s most recent significant eruption began in February 2001 and sent ash clouds up to 39,000 feet above sea level. It also produced a rocky lava flow and hot debris that reached the sea.