Cleveland Volcano Eruption: Is Alaska’s Active Volcano Dangerous?

By Philip Ross on May 6, 2013 12:29 PM EDT

cleveland volcano
Mount Cleveland, a 5,675-foot-tall active volcano on the western end of Chuginadak Island in Alaska, has erupted at least 22 times in the last 230 years. Pictured is a May 2006 ash plume arising from Mount Cleveland as seen from the International Space Station. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Cleveland Volcano in Alaska erupted over the weekend and currently continues to erupt, spewing gas, steam and ash into the air. Early in the morning of Saturday, May 4, the Alaska Volcano Observatory, or AVO, detected the explosion at Cleveland Volcano.

"The infrasound signals suggest that this was a relatively short duration, low-level explosion," AVO reported. "No eruption cloud has been detected in available satellite views. AVO received no other reports of activity."

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"Sudden explosions of blocks and ash are possible with little or no warning," scientists said, according to USA Today.

Could Cleveland Volcano Eruption Cause Flight Delays?

International Business Times reports that 90 percent of all airfreight from Asia to Europe and North America flies over Alaskan airspace, and that ash clouds from the explosions could exceed 20,000 feet above sea level, posing threats to air traffic. Luckily, traffic has not yet been rerouted.

"Cleveland Volcano falls along an oceanic route, and the aircraft fly very high," a Federal Aviation Administration representative told International Business Times. "You are only going to divert if you've got an ash cloud in your direct route of traffic."

Cleveland Volcano occupies the western half of Chuginadak Island, an isolated and uninhabited island 940 miles southwest of Anchorage in the east central Aleutian Islands, a chain of 14 large volcanic islands and 57 smaller ones. The islands form part of the Aleutian Arc in the Northern Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that there are over 100 volcanoes in Alaska; 40 of these have been active during recent history. These active volcanoes represent approximately 80 percent of all active volcanoes in the U.S.

What Are The Dangers Of Cleveland Volcano?

According to AVO, the last major Cleveland Volcano eruption was in February of 2001. The eruption produced ash clouds that reached 39,000 feet above sea level. It also oozed out lava and a hot avalanche that reached the sea. Ash emission activity was most recently observed in Nov. 2012.

Because of the Cleveland Volcano's remoteness, the volcano does not pose an immediate threat to human populations; the only human fatality caused by Cleveland Volcano occurred in June of 1944, when a soldier stationed on the island was killed during an eruption.

If a Cleveland Volcano eruption disrupts anything, it's flight schedules.

"The atmosphere-volcanic plume interactions that occurred as part of this event led to several serious encounters of commercial aircraft with the ash," the American Meteorological Society, or AMS, said about the volcano's Feb. 2001 eruption. "Onboard radars can only occasionally detect concentrated ash within or near eruption plumes."

AMS concluded that the only way to ensure safe flying in the region following a Cleveland Volcano eruption is to avoid the airspace completely.

Read more from iScience Times:

Mount Doom Likely to Blow: New Zealand Volcano Ruapehu Could Spell Disaster For 'Hobbit' Premiere

X-Rays Show Origins of Volcano Hot Spots

Underwater Volcano Gave Warning Before Eruption

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