Assessing Alaska's volcano threat
More than a hundred people are dead from a volcano in Guatemala, while lava has destroyed around 600 homes on Hawaii's Big Island from the Kilauea volcano. Could the same thing happen in Alaska with more than 50 volcanoes that have been active in the last 200 years?
"There's always a concern that low probability, high impact events could happen," said Alaska Volcano Observatory researcher Dave Schneider on Friday.
The Redoubt, Spurr and Augustine volcanoes are all ranked as a "very high" threat because of their proximity to Anchorage. Augustine is about 180 miles from Anchorage. Redoubt is around 125 miles away, while Spurr is just 80 miles from Anchorage. Schneider says lava isn't the main threat from volcanoes in Alaska because a lot of them are in remote areas. Schneider says the most likely worst-case scenario in Alaska would be a big eruption of ash.
"Some volcanoes are putting out ash for many many months and even years. So, I think that would be a very disruptive kind of situation with lots of airborne ash that's continuously being emitted," said Schneider.
That is a big concern for aviation, especially with many international cargo and passenger jets passing through Alaska. The Alaska Volcano Observatory Center says on December 15, 1989, a Boeing 747 flying 150 miles northeast of Anchorage encountered ash from an eruption from Redoubt and lost power in all four engines. The plane, with 231 passengers, lost around 10,000 feet of elevation before the flight crew was able to restart the engines.
There are also economic concerns from falling ash, specifically the fishing industry. There are big fishing operations near the Akutan and Makushin volcanoes in the Aleutian Islands.
"Even a small event could impact those important fishing communities. A lot of what happens in fish processing happens out of doors and moving fish back and forth," said Schneider.
The observatory also says three eruptions of Mt. Spurr's crater peak in 1992 caused wide-spread problems. Ash fell in Anchorage and surrounding communities, closed airports, impacted ground transportation and disrupted air traffic as far as Cleveland, Ohio.
The Alaska Volcano Observatory says since 1760, 30 volcanoes in Alaska have had more than 240 confirmed eruptions.
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