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Pavlof Eruption Triggers Ash Cloud, Canceled Flights

Candace Shaack

A volcano in southwest Alaska erupted Sunday, sending an ash cloud up to 37,000 feet into the atmosphere. Pavlof Volcano, located at the southern end of the Alaska Peninsula, suddenly began issuing black ash and fountains of lava yesterday and continued to erupt Monday.

Alaska Volcano Observatory scientists downgraded the volcano's threat level on Monday evening, saying in an advisory issued just after 6 p.m. that "seismicity and infrasound signals from Pavlof have dropped to low levels and it appears that the robust eruptive activity that began [Sunday] afternoon has declined for now."

The volcano's eruption presents no danger to Unalaska residents, nor was the eruption accompanied by an earthquake or tsunami threat. That's according to Michelle Coombs, a geologist with the United States Geological Survey. In a phone interview Sunday night, Coombs said while eruptive activity is fairly common for Pavlof, Sunday's eruption came as a surprise.

"It's what we call an open-system volcano, it doesn't give us a lot of warning. The magma can make it to the surface fairly easily, so it kind of sneaks up on us," Coombs said. "And that's why we didn't really have any warning before [Sunday's] activity. 

The AVO says Pavlof is one of the Aleutian Range's most active volcanoes, with over 40 eruptions in modern history. Pavlof last erupted in 2014, and each eruption typically lasts in duration anywhere from a few days to a few months.

For Aleutian residents, the only effects felt from the eruption will be some possible flight diversions or cancellations. The AVO has issued a Sigmet - Significant Meteorological Information - advisory for the area around the volcano, alerting pilots to the growing ash cloud, currently moving to the north.

"Right now planes can just divert around Pavlof to the south, and they've been doing that [Sunday], easily," Coombs said.

Just 37 miles northeast of the village of Cold Bay, Pavlof Volcano is in a remote and uninhabited area of the Peninsula.

"There's some local hazards right around the volcano and then communities like Nelson Lagoon or Sand Point might get some very small amounts of ash fall, depending on which way the wind is blowing," Coombs said. "You're definitely far enough away that with this kind of activity, you're not going to have any ash fall in Unalaska." 

Over the past two nights, mariners and pilots reported seeing lava fountaining from the summit crater. Residents of Cold Bay also reporting seeing red hot lava spouting up from the crater in the distance.


Greta Mart worked for KUCB in 2015 and 2016.