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Mt. Redoubt volcano in Alaska is steaming; eruption watch continues

January 31, 2009 |  8:53 pm

Mount Redoubt on Aug. 13, 1990.

Alaska's Mt. Redoubt has not erupted, but scientists and residents remain on alert and an eruption still appears imminent.

Latest update from the Alaska Volcano Observatory: Seismicity remains relatively unchanged since Friday afternoon, but a flight crew has observed steady melting around the summit area.

The website states: "Holes in the ice continue to grow, exposing more steaming rock. Volcanic gases continue to be detected. Clear web camera views currently show a steam plume rising from the area of the 1989-90 lava dome."

What can Alaskans expect if Redoubt blows for the first time since 1989-90?

It depends on their proximity to the 10,197-foot peak (see map, below) and direction and velocity of wind.

However, it could be ugly and uncomfortable. When Redoubt erupted sporadically during a five-month period 20 years ago, it sent a column of ash at least 8 miles high, perhaps into the stratosphere.

It nearly caused the crash of a commercial jet by destroying its engine blades and led to the establishment of the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center, which informs pilots of new eruptions and possible related dangers.

As for health and environmental hazards, they could be significant. Johan C. "Joop" Varekamp, a Wesleyan University professor who studied fallout after the 1989-90 eruption, said breathing volcanic ash may cause discomfort and lung damage.

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Environmental damage would come from ash fall and ash flows carrying toxins into rivers and lakes.

"The third issue then was the formation of lahars, hot ash mudflows, which again follow valleys and river routes and can be quite destructive as well," Varekamp said. "We may expect similar events to happen if this eruption is coming through in the next few days."

Let's hope, for the sake of people and the environment, Redoubt is merely venting.

--Pete Thomas

Photo: Mount Redoubt on Aug. 13, 1990. Credit: C. Neal/U.S. Geological Survey

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