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Alaskan volcanoes could disrupt air traffic

Ash levels from 2 Alaskan volcanoes are being monitored

May 30, 2013

Ninety percent of air freight from Asia to Europe and North America flies over Alaska airspace, according to scientist Steve McNutt. Alaska’s Pavlof Volcano ash threatens air travel in the region.

Pavlof, and Cleveland volcanoes have rumbled to life along the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands.

Pavlof is an 8,261-foot cone near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula- a long strip of land that extends southwest from the Alaska mainland. The Aleutian islands extend into the Pacific toward Russia in a 1.200-mile chain of volcanic islands. Cleveland Volcano, with an elevation of 5,676 feet, is on uninhabited Chuginadak Island.

Both volcanoes are being monitored, but the Alaska Volcano Observatory has issued warnings stating that either or both could erupt in the near future, sending ash plumes into the atmosphere and possibly disrupting air traffic between Asia and North America.

With the Pavlof Volcano ash reaching an altitude of 19,500 feet, the aviation warning level kept stuck at code orange, a mark below code red, the highest of four levels.

About 20,000 to 30,000 people fly daily between North America and Asia over routes that pass to the Aleutian Islands. Most international flights are above 30,000 feet.

If the ash were to reach 35,000 feet, it would completely disrupt the international flights that use Alaskan airspace for traffic between the two continents. Though this level of ash being spewed is not forecasted, the condition is being closely tracked by experts.

When the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano erupted on Iceland in the Spring of 2010 it sent ash plumes high enough to disrupt flights across Europe for several days.

Catherine Hickson, an adjunct professor of earth and ocean sciences at the University of British Columbia, said an increase in seismic activity is the best way to tell whether a volcano is headed for a massive eruption.

“It can come suddenly, but generally it ramps up for hours to days beforehand,” she said.

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