When Mt. Redoubt erupts, these scientists are on the job
For them, 'volcano monitoring' is no punch line; it's an important part of keeping Alaska safe.
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Alaska politicians also punched back at Governor Jindal. The state's two US senators are backing a bill that seeks not only more funding for volcano monitoring, but also an expanded system of observatories beyond the existing network in Alaska, Hawaii, California, the Cascade Range, and Yellowstone National Park. [Editor's note: The original version left out one of the locations in the network.]Skip to next paragraph
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Certainly, Alaskans are at no risk of suffering the fate of ancient Pompeii: Only one eruption-related fatality is on record here. But eruptions from some 40 active volcanoes here are no mere curiosities.
Redoubt's last eruptive cycle – a series of explosions, mudslides, and ash clouds that lasted from December 1989 to April 1990 – proved to be a costly event in terms of property damage. The toll was estimated at $160 million, second only to the economic damages wreaked by the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State.
It could have been far worse. Redoubt nearly downed a jetliner flying through Alaskan airspace. The KLM jet sucked ash into all four engines, which abruptly quit, sending the jet into a two-mile dive. Just short of hitting the ground, the pilots managed to restart the engines and land safely in Anchorage, despite having to peer through a windshield that was heavily sandblasted by the rough ash.
Redoubt is one of four Alaska volcanoes to have erupted in the past year. In all, Alaska has about one-tenth of the world's active volcanoes. As a consequence, the AVO, which has satellite offices in Fairbanks, holds a high profile in the world of earth sciences. Many volcano experts are alumni of the AVO or, like Mr. Power, of the affiliated University of Alaska-Fairbanks.
The AVO, a cooperative venture of the USGS, state Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, and University of Alaska Fairbanks' Geophysical Institute, was founded in 1988, two years after the eruption of Augustine Volcano, a restless peak that forms its own island in Cook Inlet. It now maintains sensors, cameras, and measuring devices on many volcanoes, though some, like Cleveland Volcano in the Aleutians, are so remote that they can be monitored only by aircraft, radar, and occasional passing ships.