Cleveland Volcano explosions put air travel on alert: Who could be affected?

Cleveland Volcano in Alaska's Aleutian Islands sits under the flight corridor between North America and Asia, but so far, its new ash cloud is not big enough to ground planes.

By , Staff writer

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    This 2006 photo shows the eruption of Cleveland Volcano in Aleutian Islands, Alaska. The volcano is erupting again this weekend.
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Is Cleveland Volcano the next Eyjafjallajökull?

In 2010, the tongue-twisting Icelandic volcano wreaked havoc on European air travel, stranding passengers for days as a massive ash plume grounded flights. On Saturday, another volcano in a remote corner of the world – Alaska's Cleveland Volcano – exploded three times in relatively quick succession, sending up its own ash cloud.

Cleveland Volcano – like all the volcanoes in Alaska's Aleutian island chain – sits beneath the flight corridor for jets passing between North America and Asia. That means it could disrupt intercontinental air travel just as Eyjafjallajökull did.

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But for now, scientists watching the event say the ash cloud has reached an altitude of only about 15,000 feet – well below the cruising altitude of commercial jetliners, which fly at about 35,000 feet. As of Sunday morning, there were no reported cancellations, though some flights were being routed farther north as a precaution, according to a Reuters report.

Cleveland Volcano has been in a cycle of increased activity since 2011. Typically, brief outbursts have been followed by calm. But scientists can't be sure whether this eruption will follow that pattern. The three quick explosions was unusual.

"We haven't seen a phase like this where we've had multiple explosions," said Rick Wessels, a geophysicist at the US Geological Survey's Alaska Volcano Observatory, told Reuters.

Part of the problem is that there is no seismic equipment on the 5,676-foot peak, forcing scientists to monitor it by satellite and with seismic equipment about 50 miles away.

The Aleutians are a bleak and forbidding island chain extending southwest from the Alaskan mainland toward Russia. Cleveland is located on uninhabited Chuginadak Island. The nearest settlement, on an island about 45 miles away, is Nikolski, population 18.

In all Alaska has more than 40 active volcanoes – accounting for 80 percent of the active volcanoes in the United States.

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