Loss of Critical Volcano Monitoring Information in Alaska
Posted: January 29, 2014
The Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) has experienced numerous seismic station failures and our ability to monitor activity at some volcanoes has failed or is heavily impaired. Monitoring instruments at Aniakchak Volcano can no longer seismically monitor unrest at the volcano. The final Aniakchak station failure was confirmed on January 23. As a result, AVO is unable to (1) assess whether this volcano may be building towards an eruption and (2) quickly confirm or dismiss reports of activity. Because this volcano is no longer seismically monitored, it will move from volcano alert level Normal and Aviation Color Code Green to "unassigned". As at other volcanoes without real-time seismic networks, AVO will continue to use satellite and infrasound data, and reports from pilots and ground observers to detect signs of eruptive activity.
Aniakchak Volcano is located on the Alaska Peninsula about 670 km (416 mi) southwest of Anchorage, Alaska in the Aniakchak National Monument. The volcano is a 10-km-wide (6 mi), 0.5- to 1.0-km-deep (1,640 to 3,281 ft) caldera that has been the source of many violent, explosive eruptions in the past 1,000 years. The last eruption at Aniakchak occurred in 1931 producing a large ash cloud that extended over much of the Alaska Peninsula and south-central Alaska and is the second largest explosive eruption historically in Alaska.
AVO has also experienced numerous seismic station failures at Fourpeaked, Isanotski, Fisher, Shishaldin, Westdahl, and Gareloi volcanoes and many of the stations that continue to work provide data only intermittently. Because we have lost the capacity to reliably identify and locate earthquakes and other seismic indicators of unrest, our ability to monitor volcanic activity and forecast eruptions in advance at these volcanoes is heavily impaired. These volcanoes currently remain on our list of seismically monitored volcanoes because we maintain a minimal capability to detect anomalous activity through intermittent data transmission or at least one functional station. Although we may be able to detect an eruption seismically, we may not be able to identify precursory seismicity and provide advance warning. Monitoring systems at Wrangell, Little Sitkin, and Semisopochnoi volcanoes failed in prior years and have not been restored. The highest priority volcanoes in Alaska are Spurr, Redoubt, Augustine, Akutan, and Makushin; networks on these volcanoes are all operating at sufficient levels to provide warnings of impending eruptions should they follow the expected patterns of activity.
See seismic network status map here: http://www.avo.alaska.edu/map/seismic_network_health.php
The status of the impaired networks may change in coming weeks and months. Seismic stations are partially solar-powered and some may resume operating as daylight hours increase in the spring. AVO will continue to attempt repairs as conditions permit.
Seismometers provide information on earthquake activity that occurs within and beneath active volcanoes. Increased earthquake activity is often the earliest identifiable precursor to a volcanic eruption, and changes in earthquake activity provide the principal scientific information used to provide advance warning of associated hazards. These warnings are used by federal, state, and municipal governments, the airline and fishing industries, local businesses, and citizens to make informed decisions to properly address hazards associated with volcanic eruptions. The principal hazard from these volcanoes is airborne volcanic ash to overflying aircraft following both local and international air routes. Additional hazards include ash fall, lahars, and other rapidly flowing mixtures of hot fragments, fluids, and gases.
We continue to monitor all Alaskan volcanoes with satellite and regional infrasound data. Additionally some volcanoes also are monitored with real-time GPS and webcams. Although we cannot forecast eruptions with these data, we may detect eruptions with a delay of tens of minutes to hours in some cases. However poor weather, common in the North Pacific, can also prohibit detection of significant eruptions using these alternate data sources.
VOLCANO INFORMATION ON THE INTERNET: http://www.avo.alaska.edu
RECORDING ON THE STATUS OF ALASKA'S VOLCANOES (907) 786-7478