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Al Grillo/AP
A group of dipnetters float down the Kenai River with Mount Redoubt volcano on the horizon.

Alaska Under Threat of Volcanic Eruption

March 17, 2009 01:45 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
After two months of heightened vigiliance, scientists have once again elevated alert levels for Mt. Redoubt, which last erupted almost 20 years ago and seems ready to blow.

Redoubt Reawakens

On Sunday March 15, having witnessed “plumes of steam and ash” and recorded tremors, scientists at Alaska’s Volcano Observatory elevated Mount Redoubt's alert level to orange, signaling “heightened unrest” and a greater possibility of eruption, Bloomberg reported. The following day activity seemed to calm down, though officials advise caution.

Bill Burton, a geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey who witnessed Mount Redoubt’s eruptions in 1989 and 1990, told Bloomberg, “This is a very tricky volcano, you turn your back and it surprises you.”

Geologist Chris Waythomas likened the tremors to organ pipes. Dan Joling of the Anchorage Daily News explained, “Instead of sound waves in a pipe, geologists detect movement of magma within cracks and fractures of the mountain that resonates and produces a distinct signal.” Besides tremors, other red flags include ground irregularities and the release of gas from mountainside vents.

The volcano first began showing signs of activity on Jan. 25, before easing again several hours later, Fox News reported.

Within days, residents of South Central Alaska began arming themselves with dust masks and goggles,, an NBC affiliate, reported. Hardware stores sold over 30,000 masks.

While Anchorage Animal Control said it had a plan for its animals, including adequate supplies of food and water, Eileen Floyd of the Alaska Zoo told that zoo staff would bring "the majority of animals" inside. Larger animals would have to stay outdoors but would be under observation for problems such as respiratory distress.

Even scientists can't say when Mount Redoubt might erupt, but an eruption appears likely. “We don’t have a crystal ball,” Peter Cervelli, a research geophysicist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory, told CNN. “[But] we expect based on the past behavior of this volcano that this activity is going to culminate in an eruption.”

Alaska’s Red Cross has posted directions on its Web site to help residents learn what they should do to be ready if and when the eruption happens.

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Background: The last eruption

Mount Redoubt last erupted in 1989 and 1990, coating the Anchorage area with “fairly minor amounts of ash,” according to the Municipality of Anchorage, Alaska, Environmental Services Web site. The city is actually located near several volcanoes that have deposited ash in years past, including Mount St. Augustine and Mount Spurr. If Mount Redoubt erupts again, the amount of ash Anchorage could have to contend with would depend on winds and the size of the eruption.

Related Topic: Other volcanic eruptions in the United States

Mount St. Helens
On May 18, 1980, a massive volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state killed 57 people and devastated a 200-square mile area. The eruption began when an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale triggered a massive landslide, shearing away the mountain’s north side. Then, exploding with the power of 500 atom bombs, ash shot into the sky and pieces of the mountain blasted sideways, laying waste to everything in their path.

Mount St. Helens was declared officially dormant in 2008, after about three and a half years of minor eruptions. Although scientists are unsure of when Mount St. Helens will resume activity, they know that it will happen eventually. Close monitoring of the volcano appears to have quelled scientists’ fears of a sneak attack.
Hawaiian Crater Erupts, Spews Hazardous Ash
In May 2008, Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii began emitting dangerous ash in addition to the toxic gas it had been releasing for two months. The U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) reported that the Halema’uma’u Crater emitted the plume. The 2008 activity marked the first time Halema’uma’u had erupted since 1968, though other parts of Kilauea have been active recently. The Puuoo crater in the east rift has had small eruption activity since 1983.
Pacific Ring of Fire
In early February, findingDulcinea reported on the eruptions of two volcanoes in Japan and one in eastern Russia.
Japan's Mount Sakurajima erupted seven times. No damage or injuries were reported from these or the eruptions at Mount Asama or the Karymsky Volcano in Russia.

Reference: Following the Redoubt volcano


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