Alaska's Pavlof Volcano Erupts With Few Warning Rumbles -- Ash Shoots 37,000 Feet

The active Pavlof volcano in Alaska has wowed the world with a weekend eruption that sent a plume of ash reaching 37,000 feet into the sky.

But that's not unusual for the volcano, scientist Jessica Larsen, who works with the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute, told Reuters.

"Pavlof is known to us for having a pretty quick onset to eruptions, it doesn't always give us long precursory signals. If you look at some of the seismic data that we have, the intensity really ramped up pretty fast. It was quite abrupt."
Pavlof is located on Alaska's Aleutian Islands and is covered in snow and ice. Its name is Russian for "Paul" or "St. Paul." Located 600 miles southwest of Anchorage and 37 miles from the nearest populated area, Cold Bay, the volcano is 4.4 miles in diameter and at 8,261 feet high, is one of Alaska's tallest mountains. It has also erupted 40 other times.

Though Sunday's event was "quite abrupt," people in the vicinity did have a 25-minute advance warning, no one was hurt and property wasn't damaged after it exploded suddenly shortly after 4 p.m., LiveScience reported.

Around 3:50 p.m., Pavlof showed signs that it was about to blow. At about that time, the U.S. Geological Survey recorded elevated seismic activity. As Monday wore on, it continued to erupt, the plume extending up to 37,000 feet from an initial report of 20,000 feet.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the USGS monitors volcanic activity nationwide, but the Alaska Volcano Observatory keeps track of the state's volcanoes. They're constantly watching Pavlof for early signs of "unrest," and on Sunday, detected "high, continuous tremors" and a strong thermal signal.

And then, the volcano exploded. The sight was incredible and captured by photographers from Cold Bay. One lucky man actually managed to snap a photo of the eruption from an airplane as he flew over the Aleutian Islands.

The ash cloud was soon drifting northwest and Larsen said the eruption hadn't endangered anyone in the area.

Pavlof didn't surprise anyone, however. In fact, the volcano has awed the world with equally phenomenal eruptions in the past. The last massive explosion was in November, 2014, and included three separate events. The first created a 9,000-foot-high ash cloud, the second a 25,000-foot-high cloud, and the third reached 30,000 feet.

The volcano was dormant for six years before erupting on May 13, 2013. It didn't stop exploding until July. Its plumes reached 13,000 to 27,000 feet. Its most massive produced an ash cloud that reached 49,000 feet into the air.

And that's only a handful of the 40 eruptions at the Pavlof volcano since 1790, which makes it the most consistently active volcano in the region. In the past, they've lasted for months and featured a mildly explosive lava called dubbed Strombolian, after the Italian volcano.

Pavlof also has a twin, Pavlof Sister, which stands 7,028-feet-tall, but hasn't erupted since 1762.

Because the Pavlof volcano blows its lid so much, the USGS uses it to predict and respond to eruptions. The agency and others team up during the process to figure out how to predict future explosions and clean up after them.

Alaska has 52 active volcanoes, most of which are remote, USGS said. But up to 30,000 people fly over these volcanoes every day as they travel between North America and Asia. Therefore, the safety of these flights remains the primary concern.

Most importantly, AVO, the Federal Aviation Administration, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration try their best to predict where the ash will drift and what regions it'll impact. They've even developed a tool that can predict this, and help airlines decide where to land or depart, help communities plan for health and infrastructure concerns, and signal cleanup.

[Photo via AVO Facebook]