Eruption of Alaska's Mount Redoubt Imminent

Thar She Blows! Will Alaska’s Mount Redoubt Soon Erupt?

Scientists and vulcanologists seem to be in agreement that the eruption of Alaska’s Mount Redoubt is imminent. The question is not if there will be an eruption but when it will happen and how strong it will be. Redoubt has a long history of documented eruptions. The most recent occurred in 1989-90 and was characterized by large explosions that produced ash clouds reaching altitudes of 40,000 feet that disrupted air traffic operations in and out of Anchorage.

Possible scenarios for this new event range from no eruption at all to a complete collapse of the mountain flank, but according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory, the most likely scenario is an eruption similar to the 1989-90 event that could persist for weeks or months. The AVO warns that the hazards associated with this type of eruption could include ash clouds reaching 40,000 feet or higher; ash fall; mudflows that could travel east down the Drift River, possibly reaching the Cook Inlet; and pyroclastic flows (fast-moving clouds of hot ash and gas) that could travel swiftly down the mountain flanks, affecting areas within about nine miles of the volcano.

Judge for yourself. First, take a look at the photos of the 1989-90 eruption:

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Geologist uses a theodolite to measure the dimensions of the lava dome at Redoubt Volcano. From the same installation, scientists also utilized a laser-ranging device to measure distances to reflectors. Repeated measurements of these distances allow for detection of ground deformation that may be related to volcanic activity. Photograph by R.G. McGimsey, June 04, 1990.

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Ascending eruption cloud from Redoubt Volcano as viewed to the west from the Kenai Peninsula. The mushroom-shaped plume rose from avalanches of hot debris (pyroclastic flows) that cascaded down the north flank of the volcano. A smaller, white steam plume rises from the summit crater. Photograph by R. Clucas, April 21, 1990.

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Final lava dome of the 1989 to 1990 series of eruptions of Redoubt Volcano as it appeared approximately one year after the end of the eruption. It measures approximately 350 to 400 m (980 to 1,300 ft) across and represents an estimated 10 million cubic meters (353 million cubic feet) of material. By the time this photograph was taken, snow had accumulated on the cooling lava blocks. Locally, hydrothermal activity continued to produce intermittent steam plumes. View is to the south. Photograph by R. McGimsey, U.S. Geological Survey, June 21, 1990.

And now the photos that have been recorded over the last few days:

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Oblique photo of Redoubt Volcano taken during an observation flight. Fumarolic activity on the north side of the volcano is associated with the most recent unrest at Redoubt Volcano. View from the east. Photograph by Kristi Wallace, January 30, 2009.

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View of vigorous hot fumarolic emission from two holes (at about 7000 feet in elevation) through the steep Drift glacier that descends from the Redoubt summit crater to the north into Drift River Valley. The orifice on the left was first observed on January 30 during an overflight and it appears to have widened by the time this photo was taken on January 31. The orifice on the right was first seen on January 25. Water vapor and volcanic gas emanating from these holes in the ice are forming a visible white plume that rose about two thousand feet vertically, nearly to the summit of the volcano. Photograph by Christina Neal, January 31, 2009.

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Oblique photo of Redoubt Volcano taken during an observation flight. Fumarolic activity on the north side of the volcano is associated with the most recent unrest at Redoubt Volcano. View from the east. Photograph by Kristi Wallace, January 30, 2009.

Residents living in the area around Mount Redoubt, having previously been through an eruption, are taking it all in stride. Other than stocking up on air filters for their cars and paper masks to wear if ash begins to fall, life goes on as usual. Alaskans. I’d say they’re a crazy bunch, except for the fact that I have never evacuated for any hurricane that was headed my way during the years I lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, or the Outer Banks of North Carolina. And the fact that I’m dying to hop on a plane to see that smokin’ Alaskan volcano up close.

Photos courtesy of the Alaska Volcano Observatory

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