Monday, March 23, 2009

No Doubt Regarding Mount Redoubt

All photos courtesy of World of Mystery

Anchorage, Alaska; one of the most awe-inspiring places on earth – rugged, natural, generally unspoiled, a tough place to live populated by people tough enough to live.

Anchorage is also home to Mount Redoubt, an active volcano, which is leaving no doubt as to the possibility of an eruption. About 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, Mount Redoubt towers 10,200’ into the air belching smoke while shaking off the effects of its long sleep. Scientists from the Alaska Volcano Observatory, which was formed in response to the 1986 eruption of Mount Augustine in the Cook Inlet, Alaska, warn that an eruption is imminent.

The scientists have a variety of tools to predict eruptions. As magma moves beneath a volcano before an eruption, it often generates earthquakes, swells the surface of a mountain and increases the gases emitted. The observatory samples gases, measures earthquake activity with seismometers and watches for deformities in the landscape.

Last year on November 5, the threat level was raised from green to yellow after geologists noticed the emissions had begun to change and minor melting was occurring near the summit. Sunday, March 22, 2009, the threat level jumped to orange due to a sharp increase in earthquake activity below the volcano. There are no more stages before eruption.

Volcanoes unlike earthquakes usually send out enough warning signs of impending eruptions that people have time to prepare. Alaska's volcanoes are not like Hawaii's. "Most of them don't put out the red river of lava," said the observatory's John Power. Instead, they typically explode and shoot ash 30,000 to 50,000 feet high - more than nine miles - into the jet stream.

"It's a very abrasive kind of rock fragment," Power said. "It's not the kind of ash that you find at the base of your wood stove. They use this to polish all kinds of metals," he said.

Due to the jagged edges of this particulate, injuries can occur to the skin, eyes and breathing passages. The young, the elderly and people with respiratory problems are especially vulnerable. Putting it another way, enough ash under a windshield wiper will scratch glass. Needless to say, local hardware stores and auto parts shops are doing a booming business in protective eyewear and masks.

There is another danger when this type of volcano erupts. It's potentially deadly for anyone flying in a jet. Monday, March 22, 2009, all local planes were grounded for safety reasons. "Think of flying an airliner into a sandblaster," Power said.

When Mount Redoubt last acted up on Dec. 15, 1989, she sent ash 150 miles away into the path of a KLM jet carrying 231 passengers. The plane’s four engines flamed out.

As the crew tried to restart the engines, "smoke" and a strong odor of sulfur filled the cockpit and cabin. (Must have seemed like Hell to the passengers and crew!!) The jet dropped more than 2 terrifying miles, from 27,900 feet to 13,300 feet, before the crew was able to restart all engines. The plane landed safely at Anchorage; but, it required $80 million in repairs before flying again.

The particulate is mildly corrosive; but, masks, filters and goggles are excellent protectors. Alaskans are advised to stock up with flashlights, batteries, food, water, prescriptions, candles, matches, tinned goods, manual can opener and anything else they would need if they had to remain housebound for several days.

Other recommendations include staying indoors as much as possible; going outside only if necessary; long-sleeved shirts; long pants; and using goggles and glasses instead of contact lenses. If no filter is available, a damp towel held over both mouth and nose makes an adequate replacement.

Video from Associated Press of Mount Redoubt

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