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St. Paul Island reported activity



Event Name : St. Paul Island 1943/3

This is a questionable event.

Start:March 17, 1943 Observed
Stop:March 20, 1943 ± 2 DaysObserved

"Smoke": BibCard
Eruption Type:

Description: A very uncertain possible eruption account of a submarine eruption offshore of St. Paul Island in the Pribilof Island is contained in Lyman Ellsworth's 1952 memoir, titled "Guys on Ice."

Below is an excerpt from the book, describing events of March 17 - 20, 1943, as viewed from the village on St. Paul, where he and other soldiers were stationed during WWII.

"We jogged along till the morning of St. Patrick's Day (1943). Things were quiet when Sergeant Graves careened down the hill into the village, yelling "Smoke out to sea to the south!"

Smoke! It must be from an icebreaker. The ice was solid as far south as we could see. Dutch Harbor hadn't passed any word about an icebreaker being in this area. Then I remembered the Russian vessel at St. George. Perhaps this was another Russian ship. Graves said he had watched it for some time before he came down. No use to say he'd been seeing things; it was smoke all right, and it was off to the south.

There was a general exodus from the hotel to the top of the hill to see what could be seen. Graves was right. South of Otter Island a tall plume of smoke was streaming into the sky.

All that day it hung there in that same position. It thinned slightly at times; then for a while it would billow up into the sky in puffs. It reminded me of explosions of black feathers.

It certainly must be an icebreaker - what else could it be? - but it seemed queer that an icebreaker would be using up fuel so extravagantly. At times you'd think it was an oil well afire.

We kept watch on it throughout the afternoon. It never seemed to move away from one spot. Maybe the ice just there was especially tough.

I considered sending a message to Dutch Harbor to see if they could tell us anything. I decided against it. I had a hunch that by now Dutch Harbor would appreciate a little vacation from St. Paul Island and its affairs.

The next morning after breakfast most of the detachment climbed the hill again. The smoke was still there. Gigantic puffs of it, seemingly mixed with steam, still billowed into the air. All of a sudden it came to me.

This was something very few people got the opportunity to see. I believed it had all the earmarks of undersea volcanic activity. Nobody believed me. None of them had ever heard of underwater volcanic activity. I explained why I was convinced.

For one thing, we observed dark rings, surrounded by white streaks. The white streaks would be steam, the black rings smoke. It must be plenty hot out there for them to be able to force their way up through the ice and water. If only we had a plane - it must be something to see from overhead. The action must be melting a huge ring in the ice pack. An aerial photo would be a curiosity worth having.

The men were skeptical. I pointed out that they must have heard of volcanic islands. For instance, Bogoslof? That had been formed by underwater volcanic action. Where was it? Just north of Umnak Island, in the Aleutians. On some older maps it was marked as the disappearing island. Why? Because it did just that. The last time it had come up out of the sea it had two peaks; one higher than the other. Prior to that it had only one.

Someone wanted to know what brand of baloney this was, trying to hand them the idea that an island could pop in and out of the sea like a jack-in-the-box.

I admitted that it might sound queer, but scientists had an explanation. They figured that such an island rested on a geological formation shaped like a wedge. While the pressure was up, the island stayed above water; when the pressure fell, the island sank. I reminded them that the Aleutians still held a lot of active volcanoes.

And was it an actual fact, this Bogoslof Island did disappear and reappear?

Yes, it had happened a couple times that I knew of. The island wasn't along a route much traveled in peacetime, but it had been pretty well established as fact by reports from reliable observers. Most ships tried to give the place a wide berth.

They were beginning to be more convinced that this smoke off to the south might be from volcanic action. I decided to message Dutch Harbor, giving them the location of the smoke from the village. They could warn any shipping; otherwise some vessel might get fouled up with a new reef.

Berkeley groaned and growled because he didn't have a movie camera and the means of getting out there. The devil with a movie camera! I was only glad the thing hadn't started up under this island - closed in behind the ice pack we'd be in a hell of a pickle!

Someone said "What a country; if you're not freezing, you're frying!"

Irrelevantly Van Meter commented that he had seen a hula girl once on Waikiki, hotter than any volcano. Swede advised him not to brag; bad for the blood pressure.

The smoke continued for three days and then slowly died away. For several days we noted a haze in the same position. Finally that too died away."

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