Alaska Nature October 04, 2017
Few People Know This Volcanic Eruption In Alaska Blacked Out The Sky
Alaska is alive with volcanoes and there is activity the along Aleutian Island chain. Augustine Volcano is one of the most active, and forms the Augustine Island in southwestern Cook Inlet in the Kenai Peninsula Borough of southcentral coastal Alaska. This living volcano had an enormous eruption that lasted for months, spewing huge quantities of smoke and ash. The ash clouds could be seen for hundreds of miles and global air traffic was disrupted. This incredible display of the forces of nature went down in the history of Alaska.
The uninhabited Augustine Island created by the volcano is comprised of the debris from past volcanic activity. It is an island that is almost a perfect circle, 7 miles wide and covering 32 square miles.
The Augustine Volcano has erupted periodically since scientists began tracking activity with 5 major eruptions in the past 100 years. It erupted significantly in both 1976 and 1986, but nothing compared to the event of 2006.
The first sign was a series of microearthquakes that increased in frequency from April through December of 2005. The shaking ground combined with gas emissions warned scientists of an impending major event.
The eruption began on January 11, 2006 with a series of short-lived, explosive bursts that sent snow, rock, and ice avalanches down the volcano’s snow clad flanks. Ash columns threw debris into the air 6 miles above sea level!
The eruption continued and the ash column rose to 9 miles high, spreading ash for hundreds of miles. Communities reported ash falling from the sky and filling the air with smoke across Alaska's southcentral region and down the Aleutian Islands.
Ash clouds look the same as normal clouds, especially from airplanes, but the tiny, razor-sharp volcanic particles can cause an immediate shutdown if enough ash is sucked into a jet engine.
Air traffic was halted in the area as necessary throughout the eruption. As many international flights use Alaska's airspace, the effects of cancelled flights and grounded cargo planes were felt around the globe.
That very thing happened during the December 1989 eruption of Alaska's Mount Redoubt when a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 747 with 231 passengers aboard flew into an ash cloud at 27,900 feet. All four engines quit and the plane began a terrifying freefall for more than two miles before the captain was able to restart the engines and safely land in Anchorage.
Ash continued to pour from the volcano from January until mid-March. All together, the eruption lasted from period of activity from April 2005 - March 2006.
A network of sensors monitors all the volcanoes in Alaska to warn everyone of an eruption. With the excellent scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory on the job, we will certainly know when volcanoes are a threat.
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